New Jersey was awarded an overall grade of “D” in a new education State Policy Report Card released Monday by the advocacy group StudentsFirst, which gave no state an “A” and failed 11 states.
New Jersey Department of Education spokeswoman Barbara Morgan was disappointed the report did not give the state more credit for reforms that have been made. The New Jersey Education Association said it was a politically motivated report that had almost nothing to do with education.
The state ranked 21st nationally, with a grade point average of 1.23, and was praised for adopting new tenure reform laws and evaluations for teachers and principals. But the report also said the state should do more, include giving out an annual report card with an actual grade for each school, rather than just information. The report also recommended the state increase funding to charter schools.
New Jersey does publish a detailed annual report card for each school, but the state got no credit for that in the report card because the schools are not graded.
“The (New Jersey school) report card is comprehensive,” said Rebecca Sibilia,vice president of fiscal policy for StudentsFirst. “But it’s not set up to compare schools, and that’s what parents want to see. Parents can easily compare an A to F ranking.”
StudentsFirst, launched in 2010 by controversial former superintendent of Washington D.C. schools Michele Rhee promotes school reforms, including a broad expansion of charter schools and more teacher accountability.
Reaction to the report largely depended on whether or not those commenting agreed politically with StudentsFirst’s reforms.
Nationally, nearly 90 percent of the states received a grade of “C” or lower on the State Policy Report Card. Two states, Louisiana and Florida, earned the highest grade of “B-”.
The report card ranked different areas from 0 to 4, with a maximum of 96 points for a perfect score. New Jersey got 33 points.
The state received four points for its new tenure law, four for offering charter schools, and four for offering “management alternatives” that give local school boards flexibility in providing and sharing services.
But the state got zero points because it offers only a defined benefit pension plan rather than a more portable 401K type of plan. It also got a zero for allowing seniority to determine layoffs, and zero for not giving charter schools funding equal to traditional public schools.
Sibilia had praise for Education Commisioner Chris Cerf, and for the state’s interdistrict public school choice program, which allows students to attend public schools outside their own hometown. She said New Jersey is a national leader in offering that option and that interdistrict choice would be included in next year’s report.
But Morgan said it would have been nice if the report card had included it this year.
"While we certainly respect the viewpoint of StudentsFirst, we believe this report fails to recognize the great work happening in so many of our districts across the state and only scratches the surface of the work we have undertaken over the past three years,” she said in an emailed statement.
Some of the work includes the expansion of the state’s Inter-District School Choice program, the passage of the Urban Hope Act, the agreement on a ground-breaking contract in Newark, and the regulations on teacher and principal evaluations, she said.
Senate Majority leader Tom Kean, Jr. R -Union, issued a statement saying that the report is a way for states to see where they are relative to one another, but makes clear that there is more to do.
NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer noted that the highest grades went to states with among the lowest educational performance, while New Jersey remains one of the top performers on national tests.
“This is based on their ideology, not research,” he said of the report. “This has to do with their corporate and political agenda.”
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