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Flouting convention

A time-honored but controversial tradition for New Jersey teachers--a two-day break to attend a union convention--appears to have survived a recent swipe.

Most New Jersey schools close down for two days in November while the 150,000-member New Jersey Education Association holds its annual convention.

But recently, Sen. John H. Ewing, the Republican chairman of the education committee, introduced a bill that would count those days as unpaid leave for teachers unless they used vacation or personal time.

Lynn Maher, a spokeswoman for the NJEA, said the bill didn't make much sense to her. Teachers bargain with school districts for a yearly salary, and the convention days are not counted as part of the school year, she said.

Besides, the convention offers professional development for teachers at no cost to the state, Ms. Maher said. "I'm really not sure what the senator's trying to accomplish" with the bill, she said.

A legislative aide said that Sen. Ewing ultimately wanted to see the convention moved to the summer so it would not interfere with the school year. But no matter: At a committee meeting last month, the bill was held for lack of votes.

Passing on standards

Arizona schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan was reeling after a new Senate bill proposed scrapping requirements for statewide academic standards and new tests--programs Ms. Keegan has been working on for the past 18 months.

"What this bill does is take one giant step backwards in our quest to raise student achievement and maintain an informed public. It's just bizarre," Ms. Keegan said of the bill, which seeks to shrink the state education code. "These proposals have horrendous long-term ramifications."

The bill's author, GOP Sen. John Huppenthal, the chairman of the education committee, maintains that standardized tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills are sufficient and that state standards should be voluntary, not mandatory. Mr. Huppenthal added that the state should avoid major testing changes each time a newly elected schools chief takes office.


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