New Jersey Association of Parent Coordinators Commissioner William L. Librera
April 23, 2003
Greetings President Taliaferro, executive board members and members of the New Jersey Association of Parent Coordinators. It is a pleasure to join you this morning as you inform, prepare, and empower yourselves for the important role of supporting our teachers and students in school.
We know that education takes place with every experience we have in life. Many people are influential in our lives as we grow and mature. As children come to school to learn our Core Curriculum Content Standards as presented in a school curriculum, we cannot depend on one classroom teacher to teach all of those concepts.
As parents we are teachers too, and we can really assist our children if we take the time to do exactly what you are doing at this conference - inform ourselves about what our children are learning in school and empowering ourselves to advance their education in collaboration with our schools.
Research shows unequivocally that parent empowerment and involvement is a powerful force in the dynamic of successful schools. If a child's parents play a supportive role in his or her education, the results are dramatically different from those where involvement is absent. It is also incremental - the more parents that a school has participating in a meaningful way, the more successful that school can be.
The Department of Education is solidly supportive of having parents as full educational partners. The department also has its role to fill in the state's education system. It is important for you to know what basic assumptions shape our education agenda. These include the belief that all children can learn if taught well, and that there must be high expectations, as well as multiple and diverse opportunities for children to meet the standards. It also is important for research and analysis to be applied to teaching and learning effectiveness, and standards and outcomes must be held constant while we apply strategies and techniques in different ways.
It is within these guiding principles and assumptions that we will proceed as we carry out Governor James McGreevey's 21-point education reform plan. The department has incorporated these 21 points into all of the new initiatives that are currently being implemented, as well as into all of the plans for future initiatives.
All of the critical issues in education fit within these five themes --
-Teacher and administrator quality;
-Raising student achievement;
-Diverse and multiple paths for student success;
-Innovative and outstanding practices/programs; and
-Public engagement and communication and public accountability.
It is important for you to inform yourselves about the many department initiatives in these five areas, because they affect the education of your children.
In the area of teacher and administrator quality, we have begun to work on quite a few initiatives that we hope will place the most capable teachers in the classroom and keep them there. Studies and statistics show that while we may be training enough people to fill the teaching ranks, the shortages are caused by an attrition rate that is much too high within the first few years. This is a problem that affects all of you to some degree and we must work collaboratively to improve it.
New Jersey's standards-based reform efforts began with the establishment of a foundation of rigorous academic content standards. The Core Curriculum Content Standards provide expectations for what students must know and be able to do to succeed in the 21st century. The standards emphasize the development of higher level thinking skills and adaptability that will support students' ability to thrive as life-long learners in a rapidly changing world.
The second important area to be informed about is that of raising student achievement. American society can no longer pretend that it provides equal educational opportunity for everyone. This goal goes to the heart of education's purpose and its promise and it must be delivered in every school.
One of the central initiatives of the McGreevey Administration is the early literacy program. Research is clear that children who read at or above grade level by the third grade are going to have much greater success in the rest of their school years than those who cannot read by grade three. We have made significant progress over the last year by linking intensive Abbott early literacy programs with Reading First and all other department literacy efforts, such as the reading coach program.
Currently, our own fourth-grade Elementary School Proficiency Assessment shows that in over 700 elementary schools in New Jersey, more than 30 percent of our children could not demonstrate proficiency in reading. Research shows that, if a child has not acquired basic literacy skills by the end of grade three, it will be much more difficult to acquire those skills in the succeeding years.
In addition to attention to preschool programs, we have trained and assigned 30 reading coaches to teachers in 80 schools who are working with non-achieving students and may not know some of the most effective ways to reach slow readers. Governor McGreevey has committed $10 million a year for four years to provide the reading coaches to districts most in need of this assistance.
The state also has won approval for a six-year $120 million Reading First grant to improve literacy from K-3. Districts with low reading scores are eligible for this grant money, specifically for early literacy initiatives.
Along with Governor McGreevey, the department has helped to launch the Governor's Book Club to encourage students to read. The more that children read, the better readers they will become. Since the book club's launch in September 2002, over 60,000 children from kindergarten through grade three have become members of the book club by signing up on the Web site. In addition, more than 1500 teachers statewide have registered through the Web site for the book club's monthly newsletter. Adding your parental influence in this one area could have a tremendous influence on your child's future success in school.
In order to assist teachers even more with what children should be taught in order to promote early literacy, we have revised the Core Curriculum Content Standards in math, science and language arts/literacy, which have been adopted by the State Board and are much more specific than the original ones adopted in 1996. They were especially strengthened in language arts literacy from preschool to grade three. The other areas of standards are still being reviewed and discussed before adoption.
Much of our education policy at every level must focus on the underachieving students in our schools. The department is in the planning phase for creating a student-level database so that we will be able to track students individually from year to year, especially to determine whether we are making adequate progress in helping underachieving students. These data are necessary for us to identify trends and patterns of achievement and pinpoint the gaps that still exist.
When we talk about standards and achieving them, we need to have instruments to measure progress. The department has awarded a new testing contract to Educational Testing Service to produce statewide tests in language arts literacy and math for grades 3 and 4, starting in May of 2003 with grade 4 science to start in spring 2004. This contract will improve our communications on testing and test scores to districts, teachers, parents, and students, with special emphasis on giving teachers information they can use to shape classroom instruction. We have also received permission from the federal government to administer a single fourth-grade test which will be a new test with anchor items from the former ESPA has been approved. We will be able to use the new test for uninterrupted reporting of progress to meet federal requirements.
Once the third- and fourth-grade tests are implemented, the state will work with ETS to develop the tests for fifth and sixth grades by 2004-05 and seventh and eighth will follow.
A third important policy area to be familiar with is the creation of diverse and multiple paths for student achievement. We must all begin to release education from the restrictions of the past and begin to find new paths to student success.
We have proposed a pilot project to revise the structure of the senior year for students who have passed the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA). We will examine the many options we could offer students, such as service projects, internships, online courses, college-level courses, career academies, and others. We have approached the colleges, especially the community colleges, to become an integral part of this alternative path where students have dual enrollment in high school and college. In order to help students make these types of program decisions, parents must be informed about the choices and their implications.
If we are to motivate schools and school personnel to really invest their total talents and resources into teaching our students more effectively, we must reward success. A fourth important element in our reform plan is to create rewards for innovative and outstanding practices and programs.
Last December, the Governor and the department established a Governor's Schools of Excellence program to recognize and reward schools for outstanding achievement.
Pepco/Conective, formerly Atlantic City Electric Company, and First Energy Corporations, formerly Jersey Central Power & Light Co. donated $1 million each for the three-year program. Through this program, 25 schools that demonstrate excellence - as measured by significant improvement in student achievement - will be selected each year. Each school will receive a $25,000 award for their improvement
The department has worked with the Governor's Character Education Commission created in February 2002 to define best practices and made recommendations to the Governor in September. The DOE has won a new $1.9 million federal Partnerships in Character Education grant over the next four years to measure the impact on students of best practices in curriculum infusion and science-based programs. New Jersey is one of only five states to receive a Partnership in Character Education award because of the progress we have already made in establishing character education services and programs for students. This is another programmatic path to student success. It is difficult to be an achieving student if negative behaviors are allowed to affect your performance in school.
The last area of the Governor's and my program is public communication, engagement and accountability.
We have shifted away from emphasis on compliance and oversight to one of support and technical assistance to local districts by reorganizing the department into two functional sectors - central operations and field operations. A large part of the field operations are being delivered by three regional offices that have incorporated the county offices into the regional delivery structure. This decentralized approach will make more involvement at local levels possible.
With the need to reach our constituent groups easily, the department will use technology to reach as many of the public as possible to keep everyone informed about what is happening in education in the state. Our Web site not only contains state-level information, it connects to local districts, as well. We have three listservs that have thousands of subscribers who receive all department-released information by e-mail.
Our latest communication initiative is the network of schools. This will create a technology-based link between school districts and the DOE and will address three areas: the achievement imperative, special education reform, and small schools. It is crucial that we use creative ways to allow the education community and the public to share information on practices that work.
We have plans for many more initiatives in these five critical areas as the year progresses, as well as for working toward full implementation of the many we have already launched. I urge you to utilize the many resources that the department has available to the public to help you be parents who are informed, prepared and empowered.