Best state for teachers is . . . New Jersey?

Image result for chris christie teachers
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie argued with middle-school teacher Melissa Tomlinson at a campaign stopin 2013.

WalletHub’s analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on 16 key indicators of teacher-friendliness. Our data set ranges from “median starting salary” to “pupil-teacher ratio” to “school safety.”

New Jersey tops WalletHub’s 2016’s Best & Worst States for Teachers, which is based on indicators of teacher-friendliness including “median starting salary,”“pupil-teacher ratio” and “school safety.”

Massachusetts and Illinois rank second and third.

Hawaii is the worst state for teachers, by a large margin, with West Virginia, Arizona and Oregon also scoring low.

New Jersey is known for teachers’ hostile relationship with their governor, notes Emmanuel Felton on Ed Week‘s Teacher Beat.

A quick YouTube search turns up six years worth of videos of Republican Chris Christie publicly admonishing teachers who had questioned his educational priorities. In 2015, he said teachers’ unions needed a “punch in the face.” And just this summer, Christie likened the state union to the fictional mafia family, the Corleones. The governor is currently battling the union over his plan to equalize state funding across districts, a move that would effectively decimate state aid to poor schools. He’s also trying to upend tenure protections for teachers in such schools.

WalletHub gave New Jersey points for having some excellent schools, low student-to-teacher ratios and high per-pupil spending, reports Felton. “The rankings also took into account something Christie has been on a crusade to reform during his tenure as governor: the generosity of the state’s pension system.”

NJ eyes automated test-grading

New Jersey is considering using robo-graders to evaluate essays on Common Core-aligned tests, reports NJ Advance Media.

Students will type short essays on the computerized Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams. This year, they’ll be graded by humans — “but 10 percent of online essays will get a ‘second read’ by a computer to test the viability of automated scoring in the future.”

Computer grading is cheaper and returns scores quickly to students and their schools.

CCs cancel cheap health insurance

“Community colleges in New Jersey used to offer cheap health insurance for hundreds of dollars a year” but cancelled coverage because the new federal health care law bans barebones policies, reports CBS New York. Students are struggling to navigate the Obamacare web site in hopes of qualifying for subsidized coverage.

‘Proficiency’ means little in some states

States define “proficiency” very differently, write Paul Peterson and Peter Kaplan in Education Next.

Massachusetts, Tennessee and Missouri have the highest expectations, while Alabama and Georgia expect the least of their students. Texas, Michigan, Idaho, Illinois and Virginia also set a low bar.

Standards still declined in rigor in 26 states and D.C. between 2009 and 2011, while 24 states increased rigor, the study found.

The study grades the states for setting high standards, not on whether students meet those standards.

Having been graded an F in every previous report, (Tennessee) made the astounding jump to a straight A in 2011. . .  state tests were made much more challenging and the percentage of students identified as proficient dropped from 90 percent or more to around 50 percent, a candid admission of the challenges the Tennessee schools faced.

West Virginia, New York, Nebraska, and Delaware also strengthened proficiency standards, while New Mexico, Washington, Hawaii, Montana, and Georgia lowered the bar.

Uneven at the Start, a new Education Trust report, looks at academic performance to predict how different states will meet the challenge of Common Core standards.

New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts show strong performance and improvement for all students — and for disadvantaged students, reports Ed Trust.  Performance is weak in West Virginia and Oregon. Ohio and Wisconsin do well for students overall, but poorly for “or or more of their undeserved groups.”

Education Trust also has updated its EdWatch reports, which analyze  college and career readiness and high school and college graduation rates for all groups of students in each state.  The state academic performance and improvement tool shows how each state compares with the national average and with other states.

Preschool for all — or for the poor?

President Obama wants to spend $75 billion over 10 years on Preschool for All, partnering with states to provide “high-quality” preschool to 4-year-olds from families under 200 percent of the poverty level.

“The path to college begins in preschool,” writes Lisa Hansel on the Core Knowledge Blog. Closing achievement gaps in elementary or middle school is very, very difficult, she writes, citing Chrys Dougherty in ACT’s College and Career Readiness: The Importance of Early Learning.

“Large numbers of disadvantaged students enter kindergarten behind in early reading and mathematics skills, oral language development, vocabulary, and general knowledge,” writes Dougherty.

One study found that kindergarteners’ general knowledge of the world was a better predictor of those students’ eighth-grade reading ability than were early reading skills. This is consistent with research showing that reading comprehension, particularly in the upper grades, depends heavily on students’ vocabulary and background knowledge….

What makes a program high quality? It’s not cheap. Successful preschool programs in Boston and New Jersey hire well-educated teachers and pay them well, reports the Christian Science Monitor.  In addition:

They are full-day programs open to all students of a certain age group, regardless of family income.
They offer curricula linked to system-wide educational standards.
School districts monitor preschool teacher and student improvement on an ongoing basis.

In Boston, preschoolers made significantly greater gains in vocabulary, math and “executive function,” which includes working memory and paying attention to a task. The gains could be seen in third-grade test scores.

New Jersey offers high-quality pre-K in 31 low-income districts. The gains “are still visible in language, math, and science scores in fourth and fifth grades,” reports the Monitor.

“Everyone should applaud programs that are generating big gains for children who desperately need to be ready for school,” said Grover Whitehurst, director of Brookings’ Brown Center on Education Policy. However, we don’t know what factors lead to success, he says. The federal government should not require preschool teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, for example.

High-quality preschool costs $8,000 a year per child, estimates the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers. The group suppors universal preschool rather than targeting help to disadvantaged students.  

In essence, taxpayers would fund pre-K through 12th grade for all students. (And the most effective programs work better if kids have two years of preschool.) Children who aren’t learning vocabulary, general knowledge or self-control at home can benefit from preschool. Most kids don’t need it.

To understand vets, educators try boot camp

To understand student veterans, run a mile in their boots. New Jersey community college officials and high school teachers, counselors and principals volunteered for a week of Marine training.

New Jersey union fights blended learning

New Jersey’s biggest teachers’ union is suing to shut down charter schools that use “blended learning,” a mix of online and group learning, according to the Hechinger Report.

Merit Prep opened this fall in Newark with 80 sixth-grade students, “mostly black, poor and below grade level,” and plans to add one grade level each year. Students spend part of the day working on laptops. They’re able to move forward at their own pace.

The online curriculum feeds each student’s answers into a data center operated by Touchstone Education, the non-profit school management group that runs Merit Prep. The data center then spits out reports that (math teacher Ben) Conant can use to monitor his students’ progress, figure out what one-on-one coaching each student needs and adjust what he will teach when he pulls a few kids aside into glass-enclosed seminar rooms for small-group instruction.

However, the New Jersey Education Association has gone to court to shut down Merit Prep and another charter school that uses blending learning, reports Hechinger. “The union’s lawsuit argues that charter schools can’t emphasize online instruction until the New Jersey state legislature evaluates and approves it.”

“Should we be experimenting with students during their academic experience?” asks Steve Wollmer, the union’s communications director. “They only get one trip through the public schools.”

After all, non-blended learning is a proven success in Newark. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

States to watch in 2013

The education minded should keep an eye on Mississippi, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa in 2013, advises Dropout Nation. And from last year’s states to watch list, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and Michigan will continue to be interesting.

CREDO: New Jersey charters do well

Children in New Jersey charter schools gained an average of three additional months of learning per year in math, and two additional months of learning in reading compared to students in traditional public schools,” according to a new study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford.

Using a “virtual control record” methodology, CREDO compared students in third through eighth grade with similar students in traditional public schools from 2007 to 2011. It found 30 percent of New Jersey charters outperformed regular public schools in reading, while 11 percent of charter did worse. In math, 40 percent of charters did significantly better than traditional schools, while 13 percent fared worse.

Special ed students do about the same in charters as in traditional public schools, the study found.  English Language Learners in charter schools — a small group — have similar gains in reading and significantly better results in math.

Compared to neighboring schools, New Jersey charter schools enroll nearly twice as many blacks, half as many whites and Asians and somewhat fewer Latinos. The poverty numbers are almost identical.

Urban charters did very well, suburban charters did somewhat better and rural charters did worse. Newark’s charter students gained an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math.

Newark’s school district is trying to improve, pushed by its high-performing charter schools, writes Andy Smarick. But if the reforms don’t work, “chartering can replace the district,” he argues.

 

NYC denies tenure to 45% of eligible teachers

After three years in the classroom, New York City teachers are considered for tenure. Five years ago, 97 percent got it. This year, only 55 percent of eligible teachers earned tenure.

Only 3 percent of probationary teachers were fired. Forty-two percent were kept on probation for another year. “Of those whose probations were extended last year, fewer than half won tenure this year, a third were given yet another year to prove themselves, and 16 percent were denied tenure or resigned,” reports the New York Times.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has vowed to end “tenure as we know it,” notes the Times. He’s not the only one. Some 18 states have weakened teacher tenure rights and/or made tenure harder to get.

Idaho last year did away with tenure entirely by passing a law giving newly hired teachers no expectation of a contract renewal from one year to the next. In Florida, all newly hired teachers now must earn an annual contract, with renewals based upon their performance.

Last month in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation overhauling the nation’s oldest tenure law and making it easier for teachers to be fired for poor performance.

Tenure was virtually automatic in most state until a few years ago, said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “Tenure was looked at as much more of a sacred cow,” she told the Times. “Once states started to move on it, then the dominoes started to fall in other states.”