New Jersey To Implement Comer Program in Urban Districts

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The New Jersey education department has announced plans to administer the school-improvement model developed by the child psychiatrist James P. Comer of Yale University in dozens of urban schools throughout the state.

Dr. Comer's model, which is widely respected for its comprehensive approach to improving learning and the climate of inner-city schools, focuses on the emotional, social, and psychological needs of children.

"It is time to stop studying the problem of urban education and start solving it," Commissioner of Education John Ellis said this month in unveiling the initiative, which calls for implementing the Comer model in up to 36 urban schools this year.

At least 16 of the nation's urban districts have already adopted the Comer model. But the New Jersey education department is the first state education agency to elect to administer it, according to James M. Boger, who provides training in Dr. Comer's model as director of direct services for the school-development program at the Yale University Child Study Center.

Three other state education departments are "seriously considering" adopting the Comer program, Mr. Boger said. While declining to identify the states, he said Dr. Comer's office has held discussions with them for more than a year.

"We are at the point now that we would like to see coordination between states and local districts for the sake of the better use of resources," Mr. Boger said.

State education agencies, he added, "usually have a wealth of people who specialize in staff development" and can provide training to urban districts with too few resources to adopt the Comer model on their own.

With the help of funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Yale University Child Study Center has launched other initiatives to use state education agencies and institutions of higher education to train local districts in the Comer model, Mr. Boger said.

Model's 'Indisputable Success'

First pioneered 18 years ago, Dr. Comer's program stresses parent involvement, the sharing of authority by educators, and the regular use of guidance and mental-health counselors to solve behavioral problems.

"Dr. Comer has focused on a very basic truth: students in troubled schools learn better when families and educators work together," Commissioner Ellis told the state school beard as he praised the Comer model for its "indisputable success."

Three education-department employees who have received training in the Comer model at Yale are scheduled to offer regional orientation sessions this month for 30 urban districts identified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as needing additional funding and assistance.

School staff members will be trained and the program put into operation in December at selected sites. Sixteen additional schools will be brought into the program in each of the next two years, bringing the total to at least 68 schools by 1993-94.

Larry Leverett, assistant commissioner for the education department's division of urban education, said the state is soliciting private funding to help districts cover the program's start-up costs for staff training, which run from $10,000 to $15,000 per school.

Mr. Leverett said his division plans next year to begin disseminating at least two other successful models for school-based improvement.

"We want to offer New Jersey's urban schools a 'menu' of the most effective programs and allow educators to choose what will work best for them," said Mr. Leverett, whose staff is studying various school based programs around the country to decide which ones to offer.

The 30 urban districts to be offered training in the Comer model are the poorest in the state and were slated for sizable increases in state aid under the controversial Quality Education Act of 1990.

The law, which was revised by the legislature last spring after sparking massive protests against its tax increases, had been passed in response to the state supreme court's 1990 decision in Abbott v. Burke. The court ruled in that case that the state had a constitutional obligation to raise per-pupil expenditures in the urban districts to the levels of affluent suburban districts.

Vol. 11, Issue 03, Page 20

Published in Print: September 18, 1991, as New Jersey To Implement Comer Program in Urban Districts
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