Back to the Basics: Literacy is
Newspaper in Education Program of the Record
Commissioner William L. Librera
April 11, 2003
Ms. Forster, staff of the Bergen Record, and teachers
in our northern region. What an impressive number of participants in
this exciting program sponsored by the Bergen Record. I am always
grateful for the opportunity to address classroom teachers who have
assembled to share information, techniques, and ideas. The collegiality
of a conference such as this gives all of us that extra motivation to
try new ways and perfect our own art and skill.
I also want to take this opportunity to praise
a program that has forged a successful long-standing partnership between
the media and our teachers the Newspaper in Education Program.
Our newspapers provide our daily reports on history as it unfolds. It
is valuable material for teachers to build into classroom activity.
I have been amazed by the accounts in the newspapers
about how many teachers have responded to the teachable moments provided
by what is currently happening with the war in Iraq. Teachers have perceived
how anxious students are to discuss what is happening in the world and
have built lessons around the need to talk about current events that
may have an impact on students lives. These are the lessons most
likely to develop higher level thinking skills and prepare students
for citizenship in a free society. It is reporters and editors that
supply the content for these classroom lessons that are timely and important.
The Department of Education is wholeheartedly
behind finding diverse ways to teach Core Curriculum Content Standards
to students. Your role as teachers is clear. However, to put the departments
role into perspective, we recently reviewed the first year of our administration
and how we think we did in relation to our goals and objectives. We
identified our accomplishments and reviewed our actions relative to
our mission and our guiding principles.
The department is guided by some basic assumptions
that will continue to influence our education agenda. These include
the belief that all children can learn if taught well, and that there
must be high expectations, multiple and diverse opportunities for children
to meet the standards, research and analysis must 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 McGreeveys
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.
The department is focusing on five major themes
that include the Governors 21 points. All of the critical issues
in education are included within these five themes --
Teacher and administrator quality;
Raising student achievement;
Diverse and multiple paths for student success;
Innovative and outstanding practices/programs;
Public engagement and communication and
In regard to 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 us in some way, and we must work collaboratively to improve
Our administration believes that literacy is the
key to success and the earlier we address literacy, the better. All
aspects of the education reform agenda must reinforce the goal to achieve
early literacy for our students.
New Jerseys 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.
Who will teach to these standards? Who will lead
schools in which the instructional program is centered on the Core Curriculum
Content Standards? How will colleges and universities provide those
who wish to work in schools with the opportunities to learn how best
to foster high levels of student achievement? These are the questions
we have begun to address with our focus on professional standards for
Research makes it clear that student achievement
of our standards depends heavily upon the capacity of educators to translate
core standards into meaningful student learning. We all know the critical
role played by teachers and school leaders in promoting student success.
As we raise the expectations and support for improved student learning,
we must raise the expectations and support for high-quality teaching
and leadership that focuses on improving and enhancing the instructional
programs in our schools. We must ensure that those who work in our schools
are well prepared to help students achieve in accordance with our Core
Curriculum Content Standards.
Earlier this year, the department presented the
State Board of Education with a proposed licensing code that embeds
professional standards for teachers, school leaders and educator preparation
programs into the process of obtaining a license to practice in New
Jersey. Professional standards will help ensure that New Jersey teachers
and school leaders have a clear vision of the knowledge and skills they
need to be successful in helping students achieve at high levels. Professional
standards will also help to ensure that teachers and administrators
develop mastery of the content, pedagogy and leadership skills that
are the building blocks of quality instruction and real school improvement.
New Jersey is one of many states across the country
that is embracing professional standards as central to their licensing
reform efforts. Many states are using performance-based standards and
aligned assessments to redesign teacher and school leader preparation,
induction, licensure requirements and ongoing professional development.
Federal mandates such as those in No Child Left Behind emphasize the
need to assure high-quality teaching. Professional standards offer the
means of enhancing educator quality by defining the expectations for
training, licensing and developing teachers and school leaders.
The New Jersey Professional Teaching Standards
Board, a department advisory group that guides the professional development
initiative for teachers, developed the standards for teachers that are
proposed in the licensure code. The board worked diligently to gather
input from educators around the state and consulted with experts from
Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) in
the development of the standards. While there is a strong correlation
with the INTASC standards, the proposed standards emphasize areas of
particular importance to New Jersey educators, such as literacy across
the curriculum and technology skills.
The move to professional standards for teachers
and school leaders, moves us away from a concern with the list of courses
educators take in order to be licensed toward an emphasis on the knowledge,
skills and dispositions expected of those who are licensed to practice.
The focus is on outcomes rather than inputs.
The clearer we can be about how a responsible
practitioner performs, the better the standards will serve in guiding
and supporting efforts to prepare, license and develop teachers and
school leaders who can provide high-quality services to New Jersey students.
We know that teachers who engage in collegial activity and peer review
and assistance have more success with students and, therefore, more
career satisfaction. It is one of the reasons that the state supports
the mentoring program for novice teachers, but there is no reason why
mentoring should not occur throughout your career on an informal basis.
I encourage districts to examine professional development programs for
their effectiveness and to allow teachers to have more opportunities
to teach each other as you do at a conference such as this.
An examination of the New Jersey Professional
Development Standards that were developed by the New Jersey Professional
Teaching Standards Board reveals that professional development centered
on increasing content knowledge and teaching skills, as well as supporting
collaboration among professionals who study together in order to apply
the research on high-quality teaching and evaluation of instruction
to their classroom practices, is closely aligned with the proposed professional
standards for teachers. There has been a great deal made about the counting
of hours when, in fact, it is the Professional Development Standards
that are driving the review and improvement of local professional development
plans. Standards applied appropriately are a powerful agent for change
New Jerseys professional development initiative
for school leaders will also be based on and driven by standards. The
initiative is expected to go into effect in September 2004 and will
focus on supporting administrators in providing instructional leadership.
For teachers to be able to work in a collegial environment, there must
be school leaders that understand the value of this need. Each administrator
will develop an individualized professional development plan that will
ground activities in objectives related to interests and needs in the
areas of improving teaching, learning, and student achievement in accordance
with state standards.
Professional standards are already at work supporting
the professional development efforts of teachers, and they will provide
a solid platform for educator preparation and licensure in New Jersey.
Once we establish a climate of professional growth and success in our
classrooms, we will have a better chance to retain our teachers and
In the area of licensure, the department is proposing
the repeal of current licensing code and the adoption of a new chapter.
This is being done for several reasons:
The states focus on professional standards
to enhance student achievementmore attention on outcomes
and less on seat-timemeans that teachers and administrators
must be prepared to meet this challenge;
Over the years, many new regulations and
amendments have been adopted into the licensing code. The proposed
code has been restructured to be practical and coherent, and,
hopefully eliminate contradictions that appeared with time and
To take advantage of recommendations relative
to teaching, learning and student achievement from a wide range
of professional associations, colleges and universities, consortiums
on teaching and leadership, and other experts in the field of
If we can keep talented teachers in the classroom
and concentrate on basic literacy throughout schooling, students will
be able to tackle more difficult content in other areas of the standards.
During one educational phase in the past,the key phrase was "every
teacher is a teacher of reading." Perhaps that is one of the basic
concepts we need to return to.
The second important area of concentration
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 educations purpose and its promise.
For our administration, emphasis on basic math
and language arts literacy must begin with preschool. Last year we petitioned
the New Jersey Supreme Court for a one-year "time-out" on
implementation of Whole School Reform programs. This year, we have petitioned
the New Jersey Supreme Court to grant flexibility in the mandates of
the original decisions. Abbott districts have reached parity with the
I and J districts, but they are still encumbered by old restrictions
that limit their ability to make the most efficient use of their parity
dollars. We believe it is in the best interest of the state and the
districts to cut them loose from some of these restrictions and let
them revise their reform practices in accordance with their required
three-year plans. We have closed the funding gap, now the priority is
to close the achievement gap.
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. The coordination of these programs is yielding
increased Abbott preschool enrollment. It also enabled us to ask the
NJ Supreme Court this year to allow the Abbott districts to focus their
resources on early literacy and mastery of the Core Curriculum Content
The Abbott preschool program is showing great
promise for helping children to have early success in school. This program
can be of critical importance to a child, especially one who is from
an environment that puts him or her at risk of failure. Our preschool
programs integrate educational, social, and family programs so that
the child and the family can help develop the skills and self-esteem
that children need in order to be successful in school and life beyond
We have worked hard to assure that the methods
and strategies in the classroom are research-based and have been proven
to be effective. We rely on the research work of the universities to
help identify successful practices to use in classrooms from preschool
We also are tapping higher education to assist
with early childhood issues through our Early Learning Improvement Consortium
(ELIC). The ELIC is a multiyear initiative in which participating institutions
of higher education will assist the department and the Abbott districts
in identifying the particularized needs of preschool children and assess
progress toward high-quality preschool. The consortium also will plan
and pilot a performance-based assessment system and related professional
We have high hopes that our strong early childhood
programs in districts where children are at risk of failing in school
from the beginning will give those children the strong start they need
to be reading on grade level by the end of third grade. 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 department is seeking
other talented teachers to become reading coaches to share their skill
in teaching reading with colleagues in other schools.
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.
Under the new No Child Left Behind Act, schools
will be forced to disaggregate testing data and pay attention to the
achievement levels of each of the subgroups, including racial/ethnic,
special education, limited English proficient, gender and economically
disadvantaged. Schools will have to develop strategies for meeting the
needs of students in each of these subgroups if the students are not
achieving basic literacy in math and language arts. One of the subgroups
of major concern includes those who have limited English proficiency.
Recommendations from our early literacy task force
emphasize the importance of using only research-based literacy programs
and strategies in our preschool programs and elementary schools. Study
after study has demonstrated that there is a strong and positive correlation
between literacy in the native language and learning English, and that
the degree of childrens native language proficiency is a strong
predictor of their English language development.
Literacy in a childs native language establishes
a knowledge, concept and skills base that transfers from native language
reading to reading in a second language.
The National Research Councils (NRC) report,
Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children explains that
hurrying young non-English-speaking children into reading in English
without ensuring adequate preparation is counterproductive. The NRC
makes a two-pronged recommendation, strongly emphasizing the importance
of native language oral and, when feasible, written proficiency.
According to the NRC report, if language-minority
children arrive at school with no proficiency in English but speaking
a language for which there are instructional guides, learning materials,
and locally available proficient teachers, these children should be
taught how to read in their native language while acquiring oral proficiency
in English. Once there is proficiency in reading in their native language,
students can then successfully be taught to extend their skills to reading
However, if language-minority children arrive
at school with no proficiency in English but speak a language for which
there are no materials or proficient native language teachers and if
there are insufficient numbers of children to justify providing those
resources, the initial instructional priority should be to develop the
childrens oral proficiency in English. Formal reading instruction
will be appropriate only when the students reach an adequate level of
oral proficiency in English.
In compliance with the requirement to serve students
most in need, it is anticipated that many local districts will provide
native-language programs to meet the needs of the LEP populations. Selected
reading programs for these students must meet the same high standards
in the native language as those in English. Schools should provide detailed
information to parents on all reading programs and materials used with
bilingual/ESL students and students with disabilities, and describe
how these programs fully support the goals of Reading First and the
states entire literacy focus. We are serious about having every
student in New Jersey achieve a level of literacy that assures success
in school and beyond.
Along with Governor McGreevey, the department
has helped to launch the Governors Book Club to encourage students
to read. The more that children read, the better readers they will become.
Since the book clubs 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 clubs
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 Standardsin 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 databaseso
that we will be able to track students individually from year to year,
especially to determine whether we are making adequate yearly 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.
We have also received word from the federal government that our plan
to administer a single fourth-grade test which will be a new test with
anchor items from the current test has been approved. We will be able
to use the new test for uninterrupted reporting of progress to meet
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.
Another important initiative related to the development
of new assessments is the one in which business and industry are partners.
We have jointly announced the targeted grant to the Coalition for Responsible
Educational Assessment, Testing and Evaluation (CREATE) and the Business
Coalition for Educational Excellence (BCEE) consortium in the amount
of $750,000, to be supplemented by $100 thousand from the Business Coalition
and $400 thousand of in-kind support from CREATE member organizations.
The grant is for a pilot project to create performance-based tests to
be used in conjunction with standardized tests. We announced the nine
pilot districts at the April State Board meeting. We have selected Willa
Spicer from South Brunswick, a superb educator and expert, to head the
A third important policy area 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.
According to Labor department projections for
2000 to 2010, professional and related occupations are expected to add
the greatest number of jobs during this decade and have one of the fastest
growth rates, 1.9% annually, over the projection period. Leading career
choices are expected to be computer specialists, health diagnosis and
treatment, and health technologists and technicians.
In addition to a rigorous academic education,
we also must consider that some careers need additional preparation
even while in high school. With the participation of higher education,
we have launched three different career academy programs since last
year. The first was the partnership of Pfizer, the County College of
Morris, and Morris School District with a $500,000 commitment from Pfizer
to build a career exploration laboratory for a medical/health program
that will ultimately benefit all students at Morristown High School.
The second was PSE&G that became a partner with the Trenton School
District and Mercer County Community College to develop an engineering
program. The third was Commerce Bank partnering with Cherry Hill, Drexel
University, Rutgers University, and Camden County Community College
to develop the Cherry Hill Academy for Studies and Experiences.
We have also 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.
One of the overarching issues that the department
is concerned about is the articulation of instruction from pre-k through
grades 12, 14, 16, or even 20. Our students will be served best if we
can reduce redundancy and repetition in our education levels and truly
build on the skills and knowledge with each year of education. Since
our newly revised standards are much more specific than the first set
adopted in 1996, that articulation can be extended beyond K-12.
We also have announced plans for an Entrepreneurship/Business
Management Academy with Camden County College, Rutgers University, and
six Camden County High Schools participating. This academy will be the
first seamless pre-kindergarten through senior year of college initiative
in the state of New Jersey, and it will serve as a model for our administrations
senior year initiative.
We also are prepared to initiate five "renaissance
schools" as a pilot program. These will be small schools designed
to improve learning, as well as improve the surrounding neighborhoods.
These will be pilot projects and we will observe the effects of these
schools on urban development, as well as on academic success. The first
was launched in Trenton last week.
In another collaborative venture, we established
the New Jersey Center for Character Education at Rutgers University.
The center will be funded through a $2 million four-year grant from
the U.S. Department of Education. New Jersey is one of only five states
to receive an award under the Partnerships in Character Education grant
program, Title V, Part D of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.
The New Jersey Center for Character Education
will assist the department along with the public and nonpublic schools
throughout the state to achieve one of the objectives in Governor James
E. McGreeveys 21-point education reform plan for New Jersey --
to develop new initiatives to improve character education in our schools
to help our children become productive, informed and actively involved
This is another programmatic path to student success.
It is difficult to be an achieving student if a disruptive environment
is allowed to affect your performance in school.
The last area of the Governors 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.
By having regional offices in the north, center
and south of the state, we will be better able to deliver direct services
and technical support to all districts. Some of the services that are
available in our regional offices are statewide planning; creation of
a seamless system of education pre-k to 14, 16, or 20; shared services;
county AVA commissions, Educational Technology Training Centers, and
Educational Services Commissions; certification examiners; replication
of effective programs; and technical assistance for problem areas.
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, and higher education, as well.
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. The department
hosted a videoconference from Trenton that included seven other sites
for about 60 superintendents and other educators. It is crucial that
we use creative ways to allow the education community 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, but the bottom
line is literacy.