U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan today took his "Listening and Learning: A Conversation about Education Reform" tour to New Jersey. The state is the fifth stop on his multi-state tour to solicit feedback from a broad group of stakeholders around federal education policy, as well as to gain input on the Obama administration's education agenda, including early childhood, higher standards, teacher quality, workforce development and higher education.
Secretary Duncan, along with Gov. Jon Corzine, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Sen. Robert Menendez, Rep. Rush Holt and Rep. Donald Payne, visited North Star Academy-Clinton Hill, a charter school, that has set the bar high for its students by instituting a challenging curricula, offering a longer school day and extended school year, equipping its classrooms with highly qualified staff and using innovative classroom practices. As a result, the Academy's Clinton Hill students have made tremendous academic strides, and based on 2008 data, the Academy is the highest performing school in Newark and the second highest among all urban schools in New Jersey.
"North Star demonstrates how our education system can benefit from higher standards and committed teachers," Duncan said. "The Academy's push for higher standards, along with longer school days, is exactly what needs to happen in order for our children to get the education they need and deserve."
While in New Jersey, Duncan announced that more than $891 million is now available for New Jersey under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. This funding will lay the foundation for a generation of education reform and will help save thousands of teaching jobs at risk of state and local budget cuts. New Jersey will be eligible to apply for another $439 million this fall. Today's funding is being made available per the state's successful completion of Part 1 of the State Stabilization Application made available April 1.
"The $891 million New Jersey will receive today is part of the single largest boost in education funding in recent history," Duncan said. "The President's leadership and support from Congress have made this historic investment possible. New Jersey can now utilize these funds to save jobs, lay the groundwork for a generation of education reform and create more high performing charter schools like North Star Academy."
North Star Academy works on a longer school day and an extended school year. The school day, for example, is 1½ to 3 hours longer than a typical public school, and North Star's students are in school 200 days a school year compared with 180 days for most public schools. Consequently, students are well on their way to eliminating the achievement gap on the New Jersey state assessments. At the middle-school level, 98 percent of seventh graders scored proficient or advanced in literacy compared with 54 percent across Newark, and 96 percent of these students scored proficient or advanced in math compared with 39 percent across Newark.
"Great schools run on really tight systems," said Jesse Rector, co-director and a founding teacher of the Clinton Hill campus. "Every school must have a top-notch staff who is dedicated to and passionate about education, and focused 100 percent on student achievement and well being. As a school, you have to be willing to recognize where you need to do better and embrace those things as oppose to running away from them. Here at North Star, we do that. And we believe that every student can be successful, some just require more support than others."
While at the Clinton Hill campus, Duncan visited an English and math class to see firsthand how the teachers are using innovative practices to help students learn. He also participated in a community circle to celebrate student academic achievement at the school, before holding a forum with students and their parents.
Later, Duncan met with Gov. Corzine to praise the good work that New Jersey public and charter schools are doing and to challenge them to do even better. In 2008, every student who graduated from the Academy's high school campus was accepted into college with 90 percent attending four-year universities. Such results offer hope when compared to the school district, where only 26 percent of graduating seniors plan to attend four-year colleges.
To date, New Jersey has received more than $289 million in education stimulus fundsrepresenting a combination of funding for Title I, IDEA, Vocational Rehabilitation Grants and Independent Living Grants. On April 1, the state received more than $91 million in Title I funding and $192 million in IDEA funding. This represents 50 percent of the total Title I and IDEA funding for which New Jersey is eligible. On April 1, New Jersey also received $5 million in Vocational Rehab funds and more than $1 million in Independent Living funds. On April 10, the state received $240,000 in Impact Aid funding.
In order to receive today's funds, New Jersey provided assurances that it will collect, publish, analyze and act on basic information regarding the quality of classroom teachers, annual student improvements, college readiness, the effectiveness of state standards and assessments, progress on removing charter caps and interventions in turning around underperforming schools. The state also is required by the Department of Education to report the number of jobs saved through Recovery Act funding, the amount of state and local tax increases averted and how funds are used.
See New Jersey and other state applications for initial funding under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program at http://www.ed.gov/programs/statestabilization/resources.html.