Education has been a hot topic in Newark with a historic teacher contract and how the implementation of the new common core standards. Superintendent Cami Anderson told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that she’s excited to implement the new standards and was happy the district was able to award $1.3 million to high performing teachers.
The Newark school district moved toward the ACT rather than the SAT in terms of standardized tests for college acceptance two years ago. Anderson said the ACT does a better job of showing student growth over the years and provides a more comprehensive report to families. She said she believes standardized tests are necessary for giving an objective measure of student performance in districts.
Anderson said while standardized tests give important data to educators, there should always be multiple ways to measure achievement. She said Newark implemented a citywide writing assessment, “which is really critical because writing turns out to be a leading indicator of tons of things including college and career readiness.”
Student satisfaction is another area that is important, according to Anderson. “Students who actually feel their teacher believes in them, students who feel that they’re encouraged and are able and must persist in the face of rigor and difficulty, these are all important sort of clues and things for us to track as educators to make sure we’re on track. Any one of them alone is inadequate but all of them are truly important or else we literally have no way of telling if what we’re doing is having the desired impact,” she said.
The common core standards are now being used in New Jersey as they are in many other states. Anderson calls it “one of the most exciting innovations to come across education reform since I’ve been in it.” She said the new standards more clearly spell out what every student should know and be able to do. “And what they should know and be able to do is a far deeper set of requirements than any standards we’ve seen in the past. And what’s really powerful is everyone’s using them. So it’s really opened up the market in terms of how we share and will continue to do so in terms of how we share across states,” she said.
Anderson explained that Newark began implementing the common core standards two years ago when she first started her tenure and focused on getting teachers up to speed about the changes. “Everyone’s excited about it and they are so self aware that after doing a bunch of training I remember I facilitated a debrief and I had one teacher say, ‘This is so exciting.’ And it’s really daunting because we can plainly see that this is quite different. It’s not a tinker. It’s a pretty big idea,” she said.
Other states that have implemented the common core standards have seen test scores drop. Anderson said she expects the same will happen in New Jersey. “Those standards are harder and they’re more rigorous, which means that our old assessments were measuring a lower bar. So it stands to reason that we’re gonna get lower results while we revamp our curriculum, ramp up our training for teachers and figure out what more we need to do to ensure our students reach that higher bar. But it’s a higher bar, there’s no question,” she said.
In the first year of the Newark teacher contract, which many called historic, teacher evaluations showed 11 percent were highly effective, 69 percent were effective, 16 percent were partially effective and 4 percent were ineffective. Anderson said she was very excited that the district was able to award $1.3 million to the best teachers.
“Kids that are in classrooms where teachers are rated highly effective get ahead on average six months more in terms of academic gains than their counterparts in low quality classrooms. This is huge. Teachers matter. Six months in one year. Imagine two years and three years. That starts to add up. Those are game changers in the life of a kid,” Anderson said. “So I really believe that highly effective teachers should be compensated according to the life-changing impact they have. How great that we gave $1.3 million to people who are gonna have that kind of impact on kids.”
While Anderson said part of her job is to support and grow teachers, she also has to consider their effectiveness for the sake of students. “If someone is ineffective two years in a row, the new law allows us to go to expedited arbitration on tenure charges and if one is ineffective two years in a row and isn’t growing and given the statistics I just told you, I do believe it’s our moral obligation to do something about that,” she said.
Anderson doesn’t have a new, signed contract yet but she said she’s in talks and wants to remain in her current post.
“I want to stay the course,” Anderson said. “I tend to be a pretty dogged, goal-oriented person and I feel like we’re in the first quarter. I’m ready to stay until the fourth quarter. We put some really good points on the board. I wanna win the game. You gotta stay in the game to win it so I’m excited to engage in that dialogue. And to stay the course.”