Education in New Jersey is ‘heartbreaking’
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Paul Wood Jr, NorthJersey.com
The state’s Department of Education was conspicuously absent from Thursday’s Senate Education Committee hearing on the pandemic’s impact on education, even as schools reeling from shortages of staff and closures due to an increase in COVID-19 infections.
Representatives of the department, the executive arm of Gov. Phil Murphy who oversees K-12 schools, were absent “despite being invited to testify,” said visibly disappointed Democratic senator Teresa Ruiz, chair of the Senate Education Committee .
“If I sound angry, I am,” Ruiz said in her opening remarks as she pledged to continue working to change education, let the education ministry “take action. or not”.
The Education Ministry did not respond to requests for information on why a representative did not attend the two-hour hearing attended by the two largest teachers’ unions in the State, the oversight body for educational policy JerseyCAN, senators and representatives from state associations of school nurses, business officials, and directors and supervisors.
Disappointment and outrage at the state’s handling of the pandemic was amply evident as officials poured their hearts out to listening senators. In response, Ruiz called on the Education Department to create a plan to determine how to move forward.
Speakers discussed growing staff shortages, frustration over difficulties faced by districts in executing their plans for spending federal emergency funds, complaints about the lack of collaboration between the state and various groups working in education and concerns about teacher safety and burnout.
The harshest words came from Robin Cogan of the New Jersey State School Nurses Association, who criticized the Department of Education’s “abject lack of intervention” in health matters, even though the health unit volumes didn ‘have never been higher. Confusion over changing CDC guidelines through December and into January and a “staggering lack of coordination” from local health services plagued nurses, who serve as health workers for their schools.
Cogan also criticized the Education Department for failing to fill the nurse consultant position at a public school, which she said was created at the start of the pandemic and authorized by Murphy. “We need authority and decision-making in the role of the school nurse consultant,” she said.
Ruiz also discussed the results of statewide tests that show students are lagging behind in learning and achieving in the 2020-2021 school year when schools have become distant or have been functioning. by offering a combination of in-person and virtual education.
Results of state-administered ‘Start Strong’ tests in October 2021 show that learning was unfinished during the pandemic in math, English and science among many groups of children, and more important for elementary school students and for historically underserved student populations. “The numbers are heartbreaking,” Ruiz said, referring to a presentation made by the Education Department earlier this week, which sources confirmed, was followed by its acting commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan.
The Start Strong Tests, designed to assess the impact of learning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, have replaced the New Jersey Learning Standards Assessment typically conducted every academic year.
Policy and education watchdog Patricia Morgan said the state needs a plan to catch up with students.
Shortages exist among nurses, substitute teachers, bus drivers and teachers in subjects that are generally not difficult to find, including health and physical education, during the pandemic.
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The alarming shortages in the pipeline of young people who decide to become teachers must be addressed, said Karen Bingert, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. She said 42% of directors surveyed by the organization said they plan to leave their posts within the next three years. She warned of a void in New Jersey’s teaching and administrative staff if that happened.
The increase in teachers ‘and nurses’ salaries, and bills being considered by lawmakers to remove barriers to teacher certification, were discussed as speakers continued to speak of a growing staff shortage that could cause near-permanent damage to the New Jersey school system, considered one of the best in the nation.
“Our education system is in crisis, if we are serious about tackling learning loss. that has worsened over the past two years, and to close the achievement gap once and for all, we need a focused and holistic plan.
“The administration’s execution of funds was fraught with obstacles,” said Susan Young, speaking on behalf of the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials.
Members of the association work in a range of services for school districts, from accounting and budgeting to food service management, according to its website. Young said districts needed to change and rework planned and actual spending, mostly within a year, when federal and FEMA funds were allocated to them. She said grants from 16 different funds, many with their own rules, were offered to districts between May 2020 and 2021. This happened as school administrators responsible for financial processes pivoted to free food programs. during the pandemic when the federal government made meals free. cost for all students.
Following the hearing, Ruiz told NorthJersey.com and The Record that the state’s Department of Education and the governor’s office responsible for its management have been ineffective.
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Ruiz is stepping down as chairman of the education committee to assume the post of Senate Majority Leader on January 10.
Allen-McMillan’s absence from the meeting spoke volumes given that she was invited by the Democratic-controlled Legislature – Murphy’s party.
Allen-McMillan did not receive a Senate confirmation hearing.
Her appointment to the post expires at the end of the current legislative session on January 10, indicating that she is unlikely to be confirmed. Sources said the absence of Allen-McMillan or a representative from the state’s Department of Education was likely due to their lack of answers to what was to be a grueling hearing .
Mary Ann Koruth covers education for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news on New Jersey schools and their impact on your children, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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