Anti-bullying law stresses NJ schools

A new anti-bullying law requires New Jersey schools to police campuses and online communications to protect students, reports the New York Times. But superintendents and school boards complain they’re being asked to do more with the same resources.

Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.

In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights “demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes,” reports the Times.

Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.

School officials also worry about lawsuits.

Most bullying complaints involve Internet comments that lead to campus confrontations, says Richard Bergacs, an assistant principal at North Hunterdon High. “It’s gossip, innuendo, rumors — and people getting mad about it.”

This summer, thousands of school employees attended training sessions on the new law; more than 200 districts have snapped up a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual and a DVD.

Westfield Superintendent Margaret Dolan worries that students and their parents “will find it easier to label minor squabbles bullying than to find ways to work out their differences.”

The law was motivated by the suicide of a Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi, whose gay sexual encounter was secretly filmed and aired online by his college roommate.

 

 

 

$186K + perks for NJ college chiefs

New Jersey’s community college presidents average $186,000 a year plus perks such as housing and car allowances. Two face charges of financial improprieties.

Also on Community College Spotlight: As wildfires rage in Arizona, endangered frogs find refuge on campus.

Former nursing students have won a lawsuit against their Virginia community college, which failed to disclose that it had lost national accreditation.

NJ auditor: Free-lunch errors skew aid

Students’ poverty rates are estimated by eligibility for a free or reduced-price lunch.  But many ineligible students are getting a lunch discount, concludes a report by New Jersey’s auditor. “School districts have little incentive to question applications because a higher participation rate also increases their state aid,” the report  charges.

“There is a significant error rate,” state auditor Stephen M. Eells said of the school lunch database. “It’s not accurate by a long shot, and I don’t think we should be using it to determine state aid.”

New Jersey gives schools an extra $4,700 to $5,700 per free or reduced-cost lunch recipient.

For 2011-12, the income limit for a family of four will be $29,055 for the free meal program and $41,348 for the reduced-cost meal.

A state audit in 2009-10 found at least 37 percent of lunch participants were ineligible or produced no supporting documentation. A random sampling in 10 districts found 23 percent were ineligible and another 24 percent could not be verified because they did not provide Social Security numbers. I’ll assume most of the 24 percent are here illegally; they probably do have low incomes.

Using lunch-program participation to generate poverty rates has many critics. For one thing, free lunch applications go way down in high school, apparently because even low-income students can’t stand the food. Using lunch data may overestimate poverty in elementary school and underestimate poverty in high school.

 

LIFO is out

Last-in, first-out layoffs are out in Georgia, reports Teacher Beat. It’s a trend.

The bill, SB 184, prohibits local boards of education from using seniority as the “primary or sole” determining factor when implementing a reduction in force. Boards that don’t comply can have some of their state education funds withheld.

Georgia’s action follows that of Utah, where a similar bill was recently signed into law. Other states that have recently ended LIFO through legislation include Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona, in addition to the District of Columbia through its recent teachers’ contract.

Illinois teachers’ unions have agreed to an anti-LIFO bill that allows both performance and seniority to be taken into account in deciding who get laid off.

Dennis Walcott, New York City’s new schools chancellor, wants a LIFO exemption from the state, but the teachers’ unions and Democrats in the legislature are opposed.

Not surprisingly, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has a no-LIFO plan as part of his education reform bill.

Detroit Public Schools is sending layoff notices to all teachers and administrators. Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager who’s running the troubled district, said he’ll use a new law that lets him  modify or terminate collective bargaining agreements.

Detroit is losing enrollment. By pink-slipping everyone, Bobb opens the door to non-LIFO layoffs. He can  retain the teachers and administrators he thinks are best and lay off the rest.

Christie takes on the teachers’ union

Taking on the teachers’ union has made New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a political star, writes Matt Bai in the New York Times Magazine.

“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1½ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. “ ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ ”

By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. “ ‘Just pay for my teacher’s health benefits,’ ” he pleads, “ ‘and I’ll get A’s, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress that’s being presented by a 1½ percent contribution to health benefits.’ ” As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. “Now, you’re all laughing, right?” he says. “But this is the crap I have to hear.”

“Christie seems to be winning at every turn” in his fight with the New Jersey Education Association, Bai writes.

Bully-free school is a civil right

After a wave of student suicides, the Obama administration is launching an anti-bullying campaign, warning educators that students’ civil rights may be violated by bullying and harassment. Punishing bullies may not be enough, wrote Russlyn Ali, assistant Education secretary for civil rights, in an advisory letter.

As an example, Ali noted in the advisory that a gay student might withdraw from school activities after being subjected to anti-gay slurs and other intimidation. If the school reprimands the perpetrators to stop the bullying, her advisory said, that would not necessarily be enough to ensure that students are free from harassment based on gender stereotypes.

“The school had an obligation to take immediate and effective action to eliminate the hostile environment,” Ali wrote.

As part of the It Gets Better project to persuade gay teens to keep going, President Obama made a video. “We’ve got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage,” Obama says.

In New Jersey,  a bipartisan coalition of legislators has introduced an “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” which would require more training on preventing bullying and stiffen reporting rules.

Last month, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate set up a webcam and streamed online a gay sexual encounter in his dorm room.

Update: After a conversation with Russlyn Ali, who’s a friend, Rick Hess is concerned about implementation. Ali said the feds will move to “enforcement” only if local officials ignore a systemic problem.  He trusts her judgement, but . .  .

My uneasiness is that I know of far too many cases where overeager federal bureaucrats have turned reasonable processes into ludicrous exercises, and where knee-knocking state and local officials have responded by winding educators in a bubble wrap of infuriating, time-consuming requirements and process.

. . . I fear that the current Department is inclined to adopt an expansive view of its role. And I worry about teachers and school leaders getting wrapped in new rules, procedures, and processes designed primarily to keep the feds at bay.

Bullying and harassment are common on school campuses, if federal data are accurate. Hess wonders if we’ve “defined bullying down”  to include teasing.

We absolutely need to protect vulnerable youth from bullies and harassment. We need schools to be places where students are safe and able to learn.

But we need to appreciate “the difference between asking schools to combat harassment and expecting overburdened educators to bring peace on earth and good will among men.”

Yes.

47% of black males graduate on time

Only 47 percent of black male students earned a high school diploma on schedule in 2008, reports the Schott Foundation.  In New York, 25 percent of black males earned a Regents diploma on time.

New Jersey, with a 69 percent black male graduation rate, is the only state with a significant black population to top 65 percent. Maryland came second at 55 percent with California third at 54 percent and Pennsylvania close behind at 53 percent.

Not known for educational excellence, Newark had the highest black male graduation rate of any major city, notes Jay Mathews.

In Newark, the graduation rate for black males was 76 percent. The other school districts nearest that level were Fort Bend, Tex. (68 percent), Baltimore County, Md. (67 percent) and Montgomery County, Md. (65 percent). The list only included states with more than 100,000 black male students and districts with more than 10,000 black male students.

New Jersey’s data is self-reported by schools and may be inflated, Mathews warns. In addition, the state lets schools graduate some students who haven’t passed the state graduation exam. One way to raise graduation rates is to lower standards.

Black female students, who face different social pressures, do much better than their brothers.

New Jersey voters reject school budgets

In a bitter election with high voter turnout, New Jersey voters rejected school budgets in 260 of 479 districts, pushing back on spending and property taxes. The Star-Ledger reports:

In the proposed state budget he unveiled last month, Gov. Chris Christie slashed $820 million in aid to school districts and urged voters to defeat budgets if teachers in their schools did not agree to one-year wage freezes. The salvo ignited a heated debate with the state’s largest teachers union.

Christie said the cuts were necessary to help plug an $11 billion state budget gap.

In response to the drop in state funding, 80 percent of districts had hoped to raise taxes to prevent layoffs, program cuts or salary freezes.  The state teachers union said voters were rejecting property tax increases, not endorsing Christie’s call for salary freezes.

In towns where budgets failed, the local governing body will decide on a school spending plan.

Statewide, school spending increased by $1,0003 per student last year, an average of 8 percent, reports New Jersey’s education department.

Average per child comparative costs in K-12 districts rose to $13,601 during the 2008-09 school year, compared to $12,598 the prior year, and $11,939 in 2006-07.

New Jersey is one of the highest spending states, but the reliance on property taxes means that some districts spend a lot more than others.

$16K per student, no progress

When Wyoming decided to spend its natural gas bonanza on public schools in 2006, State Superintendent Jim McBride predicted:

“We probably will have the nation’s No. 1 graduation rate, maybe college attendance rate. We probably will have the highest NAEP scores.”

Spending soared to $16,000 per student with no rise in NAEP scores, writes Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s blog. Meanwhile, scores for Florida’s Hispanic students rose to  the Wyoming average.

New Jersey also spends $16,000 a year per student, writes Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute in the New York Post. As enrollment rose by 3 percent since 2001, staff hiring rose by 14 percent, about one new teacher for every two new students.  Increases in wages, health benefits and pension costs have outpaced inflation.

There’s been little educational payoff. Performance on national education-assessment tests has been a mixed bag. On crucial eighth-grade reading tests, for instance, the percentage of Jersey students scoring at or above proficient in 2009 was just 42 percent, up slightly from 38 percent in 2005.

Gov. Chris Christie wants to cut state aid to local schools to balance the budget without more tax hikes. School boards and unions say that will trigger drastic cuts. Christie says schools won’t have to make cuts if unions agree to a “one-year wage freeze and a moderate contribution toward health costs,” Malanga writes.

A teachers’ union local included a joke prayer calling for Christie’s death in its newsletter.  The state-level union apologized.

Traders to teachers?

New Jersey is trying to turn laid off Wall Street traders into math teachers. So far, the three-month training program at Montclair State is flooded with applicants, many of whom majored in finance or accounting in college. They’re promised close mentoring when they’re placed in classrooms.

But will they be content with salaries that are a small fraction of what they used to earn? I’m not sure it’s a good personality fit either, though traders do know how to work under pressure.