New Jersey Plans Ambitious Effort For Urban Schools

By Thomas Toch — March 07, 1984 6 min read

Governor Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey is expected this week to announce a comprehensive plan to address the problems plaguing the state’s urban schools--an initiative that experts say is the first of its kind in the nation.

In one component of the two-part plan, 51 urban school systems enrolling 35 percent of the state’s students will work under the guidance of the New Jersey Department of Education over the next several years to address nine “critical issues” and meet a number of specific objectives, ranging from reduced dropout rates to improved writing instruction.

The second component will focus special attention on three particularly troubled school systems that will be selected through a competition to take part in an intensive three-year improvement program that is scheduled to begin in the 1984-85 school year.

‘Operation School Renewal’ Under “Operation School Renewal,” as that aspect of the plan is called, each of the three school systems, in cooperation with a team of state education officials and other experts, who will work with and in each school system for the three-year period, will draw up and implement an improvement plan that will include a number of specific objectives.

Both aspects of the plan will be phased in during the 1984-85 school year; they involve extensive retraining of school personnel.

The plan is outlined in detail in a 69-page document titled “An Urban Initiative,” written at the request of the Governor and Commissioner of Education Saul Cooperman by Arnold Webb, assistant commissioner for educational programs.

Mr. Webb had been dean of education at City University of New York City College for four years when Mr. Cooperman hired him last summer to direct the urban-schools initiative. He was also formerly executive director for curriculum in the New York City Public Schools.

Responsibility for Assistance

New Jersey, like many other states, is in the process of raising its graduation requirements. Mr. Webb said last week that the effort to upgrade urban schools in the state is being launched in part out of a realization that large numbers of urban youths would not be able to cope with the new standards without assistance.

“The more rigorous 9th-grade [reading and mathematics] test in all probability will lead to higher dropout rates in urban schools,” he said. “It is our responsibility to hold all students to the same standards, but we have to provide a support structure to help those who need it.”

In the report, Mr. Webb, who characterizes the plan as “a large-scale, long-term, multi-faceted attack on the problems associated with inner-city education,” notes that 30 percent of urban 9th graders failed the state’s current test last spring. Beginning in the 1985-86 school year, students will have to pass a more rigorous reading and mathematics test--as well as a writing test--in order to graduate from high school.

Significant Resources

The project will utilize “a significant portion” of the New Jersey Department of Education’s $29-million operating budget over the next several years, according to Mr. Webb, who will head the group--called a “School Renewal Team"--that will work with the three school systems in the intensive improvement project.

Governor Kean has requested an additional $3 million for the project in his fiscal 1985 budget. The state education department plans to use approximately $2.5 million in federal funds for the project, and it will also use private sources of funding, Mr. Webb said. The participating school systems will be required to provide some of their staff members for the project.

In addition, the state’s colleges and business community will be asked to provide various experts through release-time arrangements, Mr. Webb said.

Businesses will be asked to include school administrators in their training programs, hire teachers during the summer months, offer work/study and “entrepreneurial-related” extracurricular activities, and provide modern equipment.

Many leading corporations in the state have already pledged to support the program, according to Mr. Webb.

“For the plan to work, there has to be a cooperative effort,” Mr. Webb said. “Everyone has to have a piece of the pie.”

According to the department of education’s report, the New Jersey plan is also based on the assumptions that such an improvement effort must have clearly defined and measurable goals and be continued over an extended period of time; that improved principals lead to better schools; that students will be more willing to contribute to improvement efforts if they feel a sense of “ownership” in their schools; and that standards and expectations set for minority and disadvantaged students must be equal to those set for other students.

Research Component

The state education department will hire a consultant to monitor the three-school project and to study a number of subjects, including the ways in which effective principals carry out their tasks and the relationship between schools, parents, and the community.

“The goals are ambitious as hell, and we may not succeed in all of them,” Mr. Webb said, “but we will know why we didn’t.”

The three school systems that will participate in “Operation School Renewal” are scheduled to be selected by Commissioner Cooperman in June.

He will make the decisions on the basis of recommendations by a committee of representatives of various state education associations and the state’s business community.

The five objectives set by the state for the school systems that are cho-sen include improving student attendance in each school to the New Jersey average of 92 percent; raising student performance in math, reading, and writing to state standards; improving the performance of the principal in each school; reducing incidences of disruptive student behavior by 40 percent; and reducing youth unemployment through vocational education.

Under its employment objective, the department set two specific goals: a 10-percent increase in the number of graduating seniors from participating schools who are placed in full-time jobs between 1984-85 and 1986-87, and a 20-percent increase between 1983-84 and 1985-86 in the number of students from participating schools who are placed in jobs through cooperative vocational-education programs with business and industry.

To achieve these goals, the department’s division of vocational education will assign two vocational guidance counselors and three “pre-vocational specialists” to work with the school systems. It will also pro-vide a job-placement counselor for each high school in the school systems and set up career-resource centers in each high school.

In addition, all counselors in the three school systems will receive two weeks of training and each school system will be encouraged to establish a local “urban/industry school council” to foster ties between schools and local employers.

More Schools To Be Added

In its report, the state outlines its approach to the other four objectives in a similar manner.

This component of the plan will be expanded to include other schools once the first cycle is completed in three years.

The department of education in its report notes that its urban-schools initiative does not address the issue of school facilities. It says, however, “The sheer magnitude [of the capital needs] of urban school systems requires a long-range solution supported by both the executive and legislative branches of state government.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1984 edition of Education Week as New Jersey Plans Ambitious Effort For Urban Schools