Monthly Archives: December 2011

In 2012 Christie Says The Focus Will Be On Education In New Jersey

Aaron Houston/For The Star-LedgerGov. Chris Christie speaks in this November photo. He made several radio appearances this morning where he continued his push to end unused sick-time payouts for public workers and looked ahead to his education agenda in 2012.
Gov. Chris Christie continued his push to end unused sick-time payouts for public workers and looked ahead to his education agenda during a round of radio appearances this morning.

“The biggest disappointment is that we didn’t get any education reform this year,” Christie said when asked his biggest disappointment of the year. He said it will be a “major focus” of 2012.

Christie, who was born in Newark, said if his parents hadn’t moved to Livingston, where he went to school, “I don’t think I’d be governor.”

On sick time, Christie urged legislators to pass his “zero means zero” plan by the end of the legislative session on Jan. 8. He wants to end the practice of cashing out unused sick and vacation days.

“We’ve got got 12 days to go. In those 12 days it’s an imperative for them to get this sick leave done,” Christie said. “Folks are outraged by this.”

On other legislation, Christie said he’s talking to legislators about online gambling, though he vetoed a bill that would allow it in New Jersey earlier this year.

“It was too broad and too expansive,” Christie said of the vetoed bill, but added that online gambling would help the overall health of Atlantic City.

Christie took a few shots at Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) when asked why the two are spatting.

“Unfortunately, Senator Codey has decided he cares more about the perks of office than about getting things done,” he said. “He has been an awful partisan.”

Christie said Codey is blocking the nomination of Paula Dow, his outgoing Attorney General who he recently nominated for a seat on the bench in Essex County Superior Court.

“I just thank goodness every day that Steve Sweeney is the senate president and not Dick Codey,” Christie said.

As he readies to go to Iowa and campaign for Gov. Mitt Romney Friday, Christie said he isn’t concerned about surges in the polls for other candidates.

He said Romney “is the only person who has the staying power to do this.”

CaseClosed2: So, in 2011, the focus wasn’t on education? No wonder New Jersey loso out on Federal monies, but it received money the second time around. SMH

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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Education News


Changes Coming To New Jersey’s Educational System

Cerf looks to make changes to New Jersey’s education system

Cerf looks to make changes to New Jersey’s education system
Monday, December 26, 2011

Of the Associated Press

As New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, Christopher Cerf is charged with carrying out Gov. Chris Christie’s plans to overhaul some aspects of the state’s public education system.

Along with the Republican governor, Cerf has often battled with the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s main teachers union, which opposes the administration’s plans to use test scores as part of a retooled mechanism to overhaul teacher evaluations, take away the lifetime job protections of tenure for educators and introduce merit pay for educators.

Cerf has previously worked as deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and has worked for private education companies. He also spent four years teaching history at a high school in Cincinnati.

He gave an interview to The Associated Press last week on the state of New Jersey’s schools and the changes he wants to make.

AP: What’s the state of public education in New Jersey? How do we compare to other states?

Cerf: We compare very well from an aggregate perspective if you take the NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. New Jersey typically ranks within the top two to four in each of the four major categories.

It’s a reflection of a very evolved, very developed, very successful education system in the main. The dissonance in that is if you get beneath the numbers, beneath the aggregates, you’ll see that we have one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation.

One of the things that just gets my blood boiling a little bit on this is our achievement gaps in the schools, measured pretty any way you want to measure it, racially, ethnically or by poverty … they’re really jarring. The NJEA just put out a press release which I will tell you I find as offensive as anything I have seen in my long career in education, basically going, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s not that bad.’

AP: Their argument was essentially that the gap is so large because the best-performing kids do so well.

Cerf: They had two arguments. The other one is: Our black kids are doing better than their black kids. … Both of those are not helpful and indeed, I think, quite destructive arguments. To say that we have a large achievement gap because the top of the state is so high basically assumes that the poor black kids don’t belong at the same strata. That seems to me to be really offensive to me to say we shouldn’t actually expect the kids in Newark and Camden to be performing at the same level as the kids in Bergenfield.

The second argument is, again, the African-American kids here are doing better than the African-American kids in New Orleans. … Does that mean that as a class, poor kids or kids of color, we want to see who wins the contest in that class? No. It’s not that all. It’s about: Can we give every kid an equal opportunity in education regardless of birth circumstances?

AP: Is it a problem that we’re the highest-cost-per-student state?

Cerf: I don’t think it’s a problem. All of us who are citizens or government are managing scarcity, right? So we need to make decisions between hospitals and universities and schools and universities and highways and tunnels and so on. I would never say it’s a problem that we spend so much. But it is a naive point of view to say that we can have that conversation in isolation from all the other social priorities.

AP: There have been some studies that suggest that standardized tests not only have trouble sorting out teachers in the middle, but also teachers who don’t consistently score at the top and the bottom; they don’t help you figure out who are your very best and very worst educators. Are they wrong?

Cerf: Every accountability system is flawed and problematic. That is certainly true in education. If the standard is, can we build an accountability system that is better than the one we have today and keep working as a society to improve it? That takes you down one path. If the other path is, ‘Wow, this is potentially unfair because it may yield a result that we may not trust; therefore, let’s not do it at all.’

It’s a pretty fundamental divide. I think that there is so much trepidation and propaganda in this area. It’s really hard to have a reasoned conversation about this. My own view is that the data is potentially one component of a satisfactory assessment system, but it had to be used in a very limited and very responsible way.

We need to build confidence in our teacher corps that we are doing this almost completely in order to enable them to get better as opposed to just trying to identify the low performers and quote exit them.

Any school reformer will tell you: You will do a great, great, great deal more for children turning below-average teachers into average or good teachers than you will exiting the truly poor performers.


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Posted by on December 27, 2011 in Education News


New Jersey Wins

After Missing Out Last Year, 7 States to Share Almost $200 Million in Education Grants
Saturday, December 24, 2011

By WINNIE HU, The New York Times
Seven states that narrowly lost out in last year’s Race to the Top school improvement competition will share nearly $200 million in the latest round of winners announced Thursday by federal education officials.

The states were awarded the grants to improve student achievement with plans that include developing teacher and principal evaluation systems and expanding studies in science, technology, engineering and math.

Illinois received the largest grant of $42.8 million, followed by Pennsylvania with $41.3 million and New Jersey with $37.8 million.

Other winners were Arizona ($25 million), Colorado ($17.9 million), Louisiana ($17.4 million) and Kentucky ($17 million).

The latest round of Race to the Top was open only to nine states that were finalists in last year’s high-profile competition for $4 billion in federal money. Each of the nine was eligible this year to submit a new application. However, South Carolina opted out, and California submitted an incomplete application, federal officials said.

Last year’s winners were Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee — with Florida and New York each receiving $700 million.

Since then, Hawaii has struggled to carry out its plans after receiving a $75 million grant. On Wednesday, it became the first state to receive a letter from the federal Education Department warning that its Race to the Top grant was being given “high risk status” — meaning that the state is in danger of losing its grant if it does not show improvement.

“If things don’t change, Hawaii is going to end up in a tough spot,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday in a conference call with reporters to announce the latest grants. “I think it’s our obligation to be very clear on that.”

But Mr. Duncan said that he was pleased with the overall progress being made by states to improve education. “I’m very hopeful about where we’re going,” he said.

The new round of federal money provided cheer for state education officials, many of whom are under pressure to increase student test scores and performance amid reductions in state education spending.

This month, federal officials also awarded grants for early learning and child care programs.

In New Jersey, which barely missed out in last year’s competition, in part because of a technical error on its application, Christopher D. Cerf, the acting education commissioner, said the money would enable the state to “aggressively pursue important pieces of our statewide reform agenda,” which include the development of a new teacher evaluation framework and school accountability system.

“This award today will help us to accelerate the tide of reform across New Jersey,” Mr. Cerf said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Posted by on December 24, 2011 in Education News


Teachers Of The Year? Ok

Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj Named “Teachers of the Year”? Written by Abena Agyeman-Fisher

Better Education Place, a South Florida-based education company, has named both Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj their “Teachers of the Year.” According to the company’s media page, in order to receive the award, nominees, which included actual teachers, were judged against seven categories:

The duo along with several other teachers were judged based on seven different categories including, ability to capture and maintain attention, the ability to move their audience or create interaction, the ability to inspire, effective use of language, use of memory devices, ability to transform behavior or make them do as you do and the quality of the content.

Of all of the categories, Lil Wayne and Niki Minaj had the lowest scores in … wait for it … “Quality of Content.” The company’s CEO, Melvin El, said the controversial MCs were chosen because of their “swagger” and their “methods” in connecting with youth:

… The methodologies the two stars are using are undeniable forces in learning. Children learn their stuff because they have all the right methods. Apparently students are drawn in by the “swagger….” If you are a teacher today and you don’t have any swagger, you are going to struggle to get your students attention. It turns out a teacher can learn a lot from Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj.

Better Education Place uses media, such as TV, film, and theater, to create products that will facilitate literacy and promote culturally diverse entertainment. El adds:

With the help of hip hop we can make education fun again. Better Education Place is a company with a vision of helping children to develop a passion for reading and learning so they can excel at education and ultimately succeed.

Do you think this self-described “hip-hop education company” should be celebrating Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj as “teachers” other instructors should emulate or is this award a disgrace? Sound off below.


CaseClosed2: Well, I suppose life lessons can be learned from Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj on what not to do. Kids can learn not to carry guns without a permit, or if you do and are stopped by the police with weapons in your possession, you will get arrested. Kids can learn not to smoke weed because it kills your brain cells and if you smoke it you’ll think you make sense when everyone around you know you don’t. I don’t know much about Nicki Minaj excepts she disrespects the ladies of hip hop who started it all so she could get the chance of becoming a rapper. Dissing those who came before her isn’t the right thing to do. Kids can learn to show respect to those who paved the way.

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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Education News


This Is Not Good

Victim: Alfredo Allen is in critical condition at a Brooklyn hospital

Teen Stabs Classmate In Head With Scissors Over Basketball

A 15-year-old New York boy was stabbed in the head yesterday by a classmate after the pair got into a fight over a basketball during lunchtime.

Alfredo Allen was allegedly attacked by Chevoy Nelson, 16, after the two fought during a basketball game at Erasmus High School.

Nelson was arrested, and charges were pending.

Nelson allegedly shoved Allen as the pair fought over a basketball, and Allen retaliated by punching him in the face, witnesses said.Nelson ran off the court and into a classroom, where he asked a teacher for acid, a police source said. The teacher scoffed, but as she turned around, Nelson grabbed a pair of scissors and ran back into the gym, a source said.


CaseClosed2: This is unbelievable, yet violent behavior seems to be getting worse amongst young people who react violently without thinking about the consequences of their actions. Teach your child to think before he reacts in any given situation so he won’t end up somewhere he doesn’t want to be and his life, as he knew it, would be over. Adults who react violently in the presence of young people aren’t helping them behave responsibly when they are involved in a situation they should walk away from without causing harm.

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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Education News


New Jersey Loses Out Again On Federal School Money?

Pennsylvania, New Jersey lose out in race for education grant
December 17, 2011|By Rita Giordano, Inquirer Staff Writer

Pennsylvania and New Jersey were among the losers in the latest competition for federal Race to the Top education grants.

This time around, 35 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were vying for a share of $500 million to help make prekindergarten and other early-childhood learning programs more accessible and better able to narrow the achievement gap between those who enter kindergarten with previous formal schooling and those who do not.

Nine states – California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington – were the winners announced by the Obama administration Friday at the White House.

New Jersey, which placed 15th, could have received up to $60 million and Pennsylvania, at 16th, up to $70 million, according to a federal Education Department spokesman.

“Nothing is more important than getting our babies off to a good start,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania both said they remained committed to furthering early-childhood education in their states.

“We are disappointed that Pennsylvania was not selected as a grant recipient,” said Tim Eller, Pennsylvania Education Department spokesman. “The commonwealth remains committed to early education initiatives to have a positive impact on our youngest learners.

New Jersey acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said applying for the award “strengthened collaboration across state agencies and led to the development of a comprehensive plan that will serve as a road map for the future of early-childhood education in New Jersey.”

The two states lost out in two previous Race to the Top contest rounds for reform-supporting grants.

They are among seven states that have applied for a share of $200 million in yet another Race to the Top round. New Jersey and Pennsylvania are each eligible for up to $28 million.

The money is intended to support a reform agenda as specified by the Obama administration to advance education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The winners are expected to be announced this month, the federal education spokesman said.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841, or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Education News


You Can Achieve

All of this talk of “poor black kids” and technology has me reflecting on my own “get out of the ghetto and into graduate school” trajectory.

I was a poor black kid once. But I eventually went on to earn a bachelors in English, an M.A. in Russian, an M.S. in multimedia journalism, acceptance into the Peace Corps, and a Fulbright Scholarship.

And trust me. It took more than a TED talk and a primer in Google Scholar to achieve it.

What Gene Marks’ column and his legion of detractors failed to touch on is that overcoming poverty is not only about access and citing statistics. It is a major — sometimes painful — cultural shift, both mentally and socially. For me, it meant that I had to shut off large parts of my family whose behavior wasn’t conducive for my intellectual growth and spiritual well-being.

I grew up in the inner city of Detroit, Michigan, in a neighborhood so rife with violence that not being a member of a gang designated you to being a victim of one. Prostitution was so open it seemed legal. And shootouts were such a regular occurrence I stopped flinching at the sound of gunfire. Twice, I was caught in the middle of shootouts between rival drug dealers. And fighting off gangs walking to and from school was a weekly, and sometimes daily exercise. To top it off, I had two live-in uncles who sold drugs. It wasn’t unusual for me to boil a hotdog on one eye of the stove while my uncles cooked crack on the adjacent one.

My schools had the best technology available. But sometimes I was too scared to take advantage of it for fear of getting jumped by one of the many gangs that roamed between my house and middle school. Sometimes I won a few fights. Many times I lost. One kid who bullied me even threatened to kill me. This 13-year-old was part of a notorious neighborhood gang and was known to carry a gun, so my worries were not exaggerated.

It made me too frightened attend the free summer school courses at my middle school that offered sports and computer programs. My grandmother’s response to my fear: “You better not let that thug scare you. At least you’ll die getting your education!” Trust me, she wasn’t joking. May that tough, pistol-packing woman rest in peace. She died soon after I graduated from high school.

So, at the tender age of 13, I had the resolute mindset that I’d die learning how to type and shoot 20-footers in defiance of neighborhood thuggery. Some of my friends were not as strong, however, and simply dropped out all together.

(The bully I mentioned eventually killed himself playing Russian roulette, and most of the gangs that menaced me died off or relocated to Zip Codes throughout the penal system.)

As wonderful as my grandmother was and as much as she instilled in me the value of education, she lacked the cultural depth and class access needed to make me more than just a “good kid.” Moreover, my home was a drug house where crack deals took place as often as stock purchases on Wall Street for at least half of my teen life. No matter how hard I worked in school, I had to go home to a sometimes unsafe environment and an aunt who once physically abused me when she grew tired of my presence. My grades slumped and my mind was not focused on school. I was trying to survive.

And, as a 14-year-old, I wasn’t reading Forbes, either. Nor did I need a primer in technology. I needed someone to tell me that I could escape the “effed up” life in which I didn’t choose to be born. My high school English teacher, Rosa, did that. Not only did she show me I had a knack for public speaking; she visited my grandmother and me in my dangerous neighborhood weekly at the risk of her own safety. She taught me to write thank you cards when people did something nice for me. She exposed me to the foreign concept of eating dinner around an actual table and not in front of a television set. When it wasn’t Rosa teaching me the intricacies social etiquette and high culture, it was my high school football coach comforting me with his cell phone number to call if my crack head uncle decided to put his hands on my grandmother or me.

It was these people who risked their own safety that helped me out of the poverty I was destined to live. Not some pompous white man from Forbes peddling armchair advice to the natives on how to be like “his kids.”

“Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids.”

Don’t have brains like his kids? What did he read before writing his column, “The Bell Curve?”

The tone with which he wrote about the ills of black kids while exalting the advantages of his own reeks with an air of entitlement and prejudice that continues to fortify the institutions of racism he casually excludes himself from. And even while I hold a host of academic and professional accolades (some of which are in technology), my skin tone still relegates me to the associations of poverty I labored so intensely to overcome.

During a get-together of more than a dozen of my white friends a year ago, one of them suggested that we go, one-by-one, around the room and share our first experience with drug use. Some of the stuff they mentioned was foreign to this “poor, black kid” from inner city Detroit. To their utter amazement, I had nothing to report when my turn came.

“Come on,” one of them said in disbelief. “Not even once?”

“Nope,” I replied to pin-dropping silence.

Marks’ article is equally as prejudice and assumptive. And what is worse is that, like my drug-experimenting friends, I am sure he doesn’t even feel his assumptions have an ounce of prejudice. It is this lack of self-recognition, not the digital divide, which further insulates the societal institutions of racism that poor, black kids find so strenuous to penetrate.

When I look back on my days of being a poor, black kid and all of the technological access I had, I cannot help but wonder how useless it would have all been had my football coach, high school teacher and steely grandmother not been there to tell me that I had to make painful life changes.

I have cut myself off from family and friends who meant me no good. I never, ever go back to my neighborhood in Detroit. There have been too many stories of young black kids home from college going back the hood to see tha’ homies only to catch a bullet.

If Marks’ really cared about helping poor, black kids, he’d actually go to an inner city school himself and lead technology courses since he is so well-known and sought after.

For it is this kind of technology advice I, a former, poor, black kid, would have truly preferred.

CaseClosed2: Yes, you can achieve when you have someone in your corner you will listen to and not someone you would listen to who doesn’t want to see you achieve. Yes, success can be achieved.

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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Education News