Sunday, July 28, 2013

Expanded: Education Watchdog Blasts Hoboken School District for Pre-K Wait List By Charles Hack/The Jersey Journal

In the landmark Abbott v. Burke case there was a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court directing the State of New Jersey to provide full-day kindergarten and well-planned, high quality preschool education for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the State’s poorest urban communities. The Abbott rulings establish key program quality standards, including an age-appropriate curriculum linked to the State’s content standards, small class sizes and certified teachers. Over 40,000 3- and 4-year-old children are now enrolled in preschool in the 31 urban school districts known as Abbotts, and there is a growing body of research demonstrating significant learning gains that these children sustain into their early elementary years. Hoboken is an Abbott district. 

Research shows that children who have high-quality early learning experiences fare better in school and in life. These children are less likely to drop out, repeat grades, need special education, or get into trouble with the law. Helping all children start school ready to learn is critical to their future success and to the well being of society. It is also essential for closing gaps in achievement among low-income students and students of color.

Despite the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling and what research tells us, there is a current controversy occurring in the Hoboken School District with the creation of a waiting list of over 70 children for free, quality pre school education. The creation of a waiting list and apparent "reinterpretation" of state law and disregard of research findings by district leadership seems to have occurred with no protest by the Kids First Board majority. As the following story points out however, there are a growing number of concerned parents, community members, and children advocates who are concerned about the formation of this waiting list, its legality, and the consequences of either no or costly pre school education for the 3 and 4 year old children of Hoboken.  -Dr. Petrosino 

HOBOKEN – Despite the state mandate that requires the Hoboken Public Schools to provide free pre-kindergarten classes for every 3- and 4-year-old in the city, dozens of parents have received letters saying they have been placed on a waiting list.
"That's shocking," said Sharon Krengel, spokeswoman for the Education Law Center in Newark, a group that advocates for school funding and equal educational opportunities for all students.
By law Hoboken -- one of 31 so-called "Abbott" district schools that receive special state funding -- must provide pre-K classes for all eligible 3- and 4-year-olds, Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple said.
"A Supreme Court ruling made it clear there can be no waiting lists...If additional parents want their children to attend pre-school, funding and space must be provided to accommodate the children, otherwise their rights to attend the program are being violated." -David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center.  
Roughly 70 students were put on a waiting list earlier this month after being registered for placement, school officials said.

This issue was first reported by the Hoboken Reporter on June 28. For that story please CLICK HERE

NJ Law, Pre School and Abbott Districts: CLICK HERE 

In addition to the Education Law Center, the Hoboken Reporter, and the Jersey Journal, a number of local and state elected officials have commented about this issue: CLICK HERE

In typical fashion of a reactionary school district, I suspect a solution will be found fairly soon as this issue gains increasing public attention. One must wonder however if making mandatory accommodations for 3 and 4 year olds only when public reaction gains attention by bloggers and the press and in disregard of research and the law is an effective way to operate a school district and to be responsive to our community's most precious resource. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New Jersey Approves Six New Charter Schools

St. Anne's Day- 5th and Monroe Sts circa 1959
Hoboken, NJ
The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) announced July 19 that six new charter schools have been approved for a September opening. The six were previously approved in an earlier application round, and received final approval after completing a "preparedness review."
The "preparedness review" evaluates whether a charter applicant previously approved has the proper academic and operational components in place.
The six schools, and the public school districts they encompass, include:
  • Camden Community Charter School, Camden; Year 1 grades, projected enrollment: K-5, 150. Year 4 grades, projected enrollment: K-8, 950
  • Compass Academy Charter School, Millville, Vineland, Pittsgrove; Year 1 grades, projected enrollment:K-2, 114; Year 4 grades, projected enrollment: K-5, 228
  • Hope Community Charter School, Camden; Year 1 grades, projected enrollment: K-1, 132; Year 4 grades, projected enrollment: K-4, 330
  • Jersey City Global Charter School, Jersey City; Year 1 grades, projected enrollment: K-2, 240; Year 4 grades, projected enrollment: K-6, 486
  • Paterson Arts and Science Charter School, Paterson; Year 1 grades, projected enrollment: K-3, 305; Year 4 grades, projected enrollment: K-6, 486
  • Philip’s Academy Charter School, Newark, Irvington, East Orange; Year 1 grades, projected enrollment: K-8, 300; Year 4 grades, projected enrollment: K-8, 300
There are now 87 public charter schools in New Jersey; that number reflects these new schools, as well as five schools that the NJDOE closed this year.

Photo Credit: Anthony Petrosino Sr. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Classes should do hands-on exercises before reading and video, Stanford researchers say

A new study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education flips upside down the notion that students learn best by first independently reading texts or watching online videos before coming to class to engage in hands-on projects. Studying a particular lesson, the Stanford researchers showed that when the order was reversed, students' performances improved substantially.

While the study has broad implications about how best to employ interactive learning technologies, it also focuses specifically on the teaching of neuroscience and underscores the effectiveness of a new interactive tabletop learning environment, called BrainExplorer, which was developed by Stanford GSE researchers to enhance neuroscience instruction.

The study buttresses what many educational researchers and cognitive scientists have been asserting for many years: the "exploration first" model is a better way to learn. In addition to these published findings, the researchers spoke at an American Educational Research Association meeting earlier this year about another study that used instructional video instead of text and obtained the same results. The team is now conducting follow-up studies.

"With this study, we are showing that research in education is useful because sometimes our intuitions about 'what works' are simply dead wrong," said Blikstein.
The study was funded with support from the National Science Foundation.

Policy of Hiring Interim Superintendents and Administrators Part of a State Wide Investigative Report

When school superintendents in New Jersey leave for other jobs, someone needs to take over leadership of the district. As has become the policy of late, this means that often an interim steps in while school boards search for a permanent replacement. In the case of the Hoboken School District, when its superintendent left in August of 2009 after giving 3 months notice, the Hoboken School Board took a few years to find a permanent replacement. During this period between permanent superintendents, the political group known as Kids First, who hold the political majority, insisted on using this policy of hiring retired interim administrators within the school district. Specifically, the hiring of interim superintendent Peter Carter (retired) and eventually interim superintendent Walter Rusak (retired). But Kids First was not content with hiring just interim superintendents, they also hired interim principals, interim business administrators, and interim assistant superintendents. 

These retired interims and others across the state of New Jersey, received monthly checks from the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund in addition to their salaries in school districts like Hoboken.

The pension rules in New Jersey allow retired administrators to work for up to two years in any given interim position and there are no limits on the number of times they can hold interim positions as reported in an investigative report entitled "Double-Dips Add Up To Millions for 45 Retired School Chiefs" by Mark Lagerkvist at NJ Watchdog

These rules are established by the NJ Pension system and are intended to allow district to hire “temporary” people in key roles until a permanent position is filled. State pension statutes place a two-year limit on the length of time a retired superintendent can collect a pension while earning a salary as an interim superintendent. all retired educators are eligible for the perk. Former teachers who return to the classroom must cancel their retirements and re-enroll in the pension fund. This happened following the repeal in November 2003 of a rule permitting interim employment for up to six months without penalty. Exempted from that decision were certified superintendents and administrators, including principals and school business administrators, who already were playing by a different set of rules. Starting in January 2002, retired superintendents and business administrators were permitted to accept employment on an interim basis for up to two years in a single district. With just a small break between jobs, retired superintendents can hop from district to district without affecting their pension income.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New Rankings put The University of Texas at Austin Among Top World Universities, Best Buys in Higher Ed

Hoboken Cove- Hoboken, NJ 

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin has been recognized as both the 26th best university in the world and one of the "best buys" in higher education by a pair of prestigious organizations that track higher education internationally.
In the 2013 Center for World University Rankings, The University of Texas at Austin was ranked 26th among the world’s top 100 universities. The ranking puts the university in seventh place among public universities in the United States included in the rankings.
The World University Rankings are based on several criteria, including publications by faculty, influence, citations of faculty research, patents, faculty quality and employment of graduates. Among these criteria, the university ranked highest in patents (20th) and quality of faculty (24th).
"This illustrates how important attracting and retaining top faculty is beyond the primary benefit of having great teachers and researchers," said UT Austin President Bill Powers, who will also serve as chairman of the Association of American Universities beginning this fall."Faculty quality drives rankings, rankings build reputation, and a rising reputation attracts students, professors and staff of an ever higher quality."
The only other Texas universities included in the top 100 are University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas (46), Texas A&M University-College Station (80) and Rice University in Houston (94).
Based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the Center for World University Rankings endeavors to provide the most comprehensive university ranking available.
The second prominent ranking of the university, received from the 2014 Fiske Guide to Colleges, lists The University of Texas at Austin as one of the “Best Buys in Higher Education.”
The Fiske rankings during the past 30 years have chosen a select group of schools noted for quality academic offerings and affordable cost for its “Best Buy” rankings. This year’s rankings are composed of 21 public and 20 private colleges and universities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. It does not assign specific ranking numbers to these schools. The list includes three other Texas schools — Texas A&M University, Rice University and Trinity University.
 The rankings are the latest in a series that recognize UT Austin's increasing excellence. These include U.S. News and World Report, which recognizes the university as the 46th best university in the nation and the London-based Times Higher Education, which recognizes UT Austin as the 25th best university in the world.
"The vision we are pursuing at UT Austin continues to be validated by international analysts, publications and rankings," said Powers.
For more information, contact: Gary Susswein, Office of the President, 512-471-4945.

Monday, July 8, 2013

MASEE Graduate, Mr. Bobby Garcia, Takes Robotics Team to Win After Win--and Learning About Robotics All the Way

Mr. Bobby Garcia (far left) with Robotics team and
special guest- Manor New Tech HS-- May 9, 2013
Here is a story about Mr. Bobby Garcia by Christine Benson of the College of Education's Communications office at The University of Texas at Austin and his robotics team at Manor New Tech High School in Manor, TX. Mr. Garica is a graduate of the MASEE program that is offered at the College of Education from within the STEM Education Program. MASEE is funded primarily via the "UTeach Engineering" grant from the National Science Foundation of which I am a Co-Principal Investigator. To date, the MASEE program has graduated 30 in-service teachers with at least another 20 in the pipeline. -Dr. Petrosino 

Bobby Garcia, a graduate of the College of Education’s Master of Arts in STEM Education - Engineering (MASEE) program, is inspiring students at Manor New Tech High School to win. Garcia is lead mentor for the school’s robotics team and under his tutelage Team TEXplosion has garnered local, state and national awards.
Earlier this year, the team won at the FIRST Lone Star Regional Robotics Competition in Houston, which qualified them for the FIRST Championship Robotics Competition in St. Louis, MO, in April. In  the past they’ve also traveled to farflung spots like Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake City to compete.
The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competitions are among the most prestigious high school tech tournaments in the country and often are hailed as the World Cup of Technology and a “varsity sport of the mind.” They’re open to high school students who are interested in science and technology and, in addition to building tech knowledge, aim to boost students’ social and  leadership skills.

“This past school year, I convinced my school administration to allow me to offer a course for our FIRST Robotics Competition group,” said Garcia, who has taught at Manor New Tech since it opened in 2007, “and I helped create and run a course for our junior varsity FIRST Technical Challenge. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to teach either of those courses last had it not been for my experience in the MASEE program.” —Christine Benson, College of Education Communications Assistant

Monday, July 1, 2013

Designs on the Future of High School Engineering: UTeachEngineering

The following is a write up from the National Science Foundation on UTeach Engineering-- a grant in which I am a Co-Principal Investigator with some other colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin and the Austin Independent School District. -Dr. Petrosino 

What started as a teacher training program morphed into a year-long, high school engineering course and multiple professional development opportunities
President Obama tours a classroom at Manor New Technology High School in Manor, Texas
President Obama visits Manor New Tech and some
UTeach Engineering graduates

President Barack Obama tours a classroom at Manor New Technology High School in Manor, Texas.
Credit and Larger Version
June 21, 2013

In May, President Obama kicked off his Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour with a visit to Austin, Texas. First on the agenda--a visit to Manor New Technology High School, a school committed to preparing students for the high-tech, digital world. One of the highlights of the visit was a demonstration by TEXplosion, the school's award-winning robotics team. Although their competition robot was in transit from the world championships, they delivered with their practice bot, "Yolotron."
During the demonstration, President Obama spoke with Bobby Garcia, lead mentor for the robotics team and an engineering teacher at Manor New Tech. Since its start five years ago, the team has gone from a somewhat disorganized after-school program to an integral part of the curriculum. This year for the first time, the team won two regional competitions in Texas and earned a spot at the world robotics championships held in St. Louis, Mo., in April.
Garcia credits the team's turnaround, in part, with his participation in the University of Texas at Austin's (UT Austin) Master of Arts in STEM Education-Engineering (MASEE) program, a 2.5-year mix of residential and online coursework that includes hands-on projects in engineering design methods. The program is part of a larger NSF-funded effort--UTeachEngineering--developed at UT Austin to address both teacher professional development and curriculum creation in engineering at the secondary school level.

Meeting a need
Five years ago, some high schools in Texas began offering a year-long course in engineering to meet a state requirement of a fourth year of science for secondary school students. However, between 1995 and 2010 only 44 Texas high school teachers became certified in engineering. With the potential for 10,000 to 20,000 students enrolling in engineering each year to satisfy graduation requirements, UT Austin projected that the state could need as many as 500 engineering teachers.
Aware of the great need, UT Austin's David Allen, a chemical engineering professor, teamed with colleague Richard Crawford, a mechanical engineering professor, and Cheryl Farmer, a UT program manager. Together with colleagues from UT Austin's Colleges of Natural Sciences and Education and the Austin Independent School District, they applied for an NSF grant to fund creation of a professional development program for teachers of high school engineering. "We wanted to be engaged in defining what the high school course would be like and we wanted the teachers to be authentic in providing that course," Allen says.
However, a few months into the grant, input from NSF staff and a request from a school district partner for course materials caused the trio to completely revise their approach. "NSF suggested we develop the requested materials with the ideal high school course in mind," explains Farmer, who now serves as UTeachEngineering project director. "The goal was a year-long, high quality, low-cost curriculum that could be implemented in a variety of settings."

Creating a course
Rather than create a professional development program, the trio enlisted engineering natural sciences and education faculty, research fellows, practicing engineers--including a NASA engineer--education specialists, and high school teachers, and produced the high school course, "Engineer Your World." The algebra-based curriculum covers five units--discovering the design process, data acquisition and analysis, reverse engineering of everyday products, systems engineering, and automation and control.
Enriching these five extended design challenges in mechanical, aerospace and civil engineering are week-long explorations that introduce other disciplines such as chemical and biomedical engineering. "In each unit, students build, create, test, refine and analyze," says Farmer. "The course introduces the practice and process of engineering as well as authentic engineering skills and habits of mind." All of these areas are tied to engaging engineering activities and challenges such as building a pinhole camera for disabled artists.
In 2011-12, "Engineer Your World" was piloted in seven schools in Texas. That number jumped to 23 schools in eight states for 2012-2013. The plan is to introduce the course in 100 schools in 2013-2014 and double that number in 2014-2015.
While the course includes many challenging opportunities to learn about how engineers think and what they do, the goal of the course is not to turn every student into an engineer, says Farmer. "We are thrilled if our course helps students make an informed decision about what path they choose to follow. We are helping students be more literate about engineering."

Preparing teachers
Using "Engineer Your World" as a centerpiece, the team returned to their original plan and created several professional development components to complement the course and strengthen the ranks of high school engineering teachers. UTeachEngineering now includes:
  • the MASEE program aimed at teachers who want to become leaders in secondary engineering education,
  • an undergraduate certificate program for students in engineering and the natural sciences (students simultaneously obtain their bachelor of science degrees and teaching certificates),
  • a certification program for those who hold bachelor's degrees in engineering or science and would like to teach, and
  • a two-week summer session and ongoing support for teachers who teach the "Engineer Your World" course.
Over the next year, UTeachEngineering will add an online learning management system to foster collaboration among current and past participants as well as external resources such as industry mentors.

Rethinking the future
With more students taking high school-level engineering courses than ever before, Allen says programs like UTeachEngineering can help prepare students who may eventually teach those engineering courses along with mainstream engineers who go on to careers through colleges of engineering. Although the numbers of students taking engineering in high school are rising, the attrition rate in major engineering undergraduate programs is about 50 percent. "We can lure them in but they don't stay," says Lisa Guerra, the NASA engineer who worked on the systems engineering unit of "Engineer Your World." Allen points out that "it's critical for the engineering profession in the U.S. to utilize what's going on in high schools and to consider how we deal with the transition between high school and college."
For Garcia, his experience with the MASEE program and UTeachEngineering was eye-opening and energizing. Since graduating, he has helped develop two robotics classes for Manor New Tech students and repurposed thousands of dollars worth of equipment and space for the robotics team. "I took the plunge and applied...I was inspired and re-invigorated in teaching engineering. One of the things going right with education is exploring science and math in creative ways."
--  Susan Reiss, (703) 536-4529

Investigators David Allen
Cheryl Farmer
Michael Houser
Michael Marder
Richard Crawford
Anthony Petrosino

Related Institutions/Organizations University of Texas at Austin

Locations Texas

Related Programs Math and Science Partnership
Engineering Education

Related Awards #0831811 UTeachEngineering: Training Secondary Teachers to Deliver Design-Based Engineering Instruction

Years Research Conducted 2008 - 2014
Total Grants $12,478,158
Related WebsitesUTeachEngineering:
Engineer Your World:
MASEE Program: