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More school days in New Jersey could be on the horizon

schundlerbret030410_optState's education commissioner also sees benefits of longer days for students

BY BOB HOLT
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

Chances are Bret Schundler's children aren't all that happy with him right now.

State Education Commissioner Bret Schundler told lawmakers Monday that many New Jersey school children could benefit from more days in school and more time in class.

"Bargaining units have rights," Schundler said during an appearance before the state Senate Education Committee in Trenton, according to the Press of Atlantic City. "But I don't want to close the door to the opportunity for a longer school year or day."

He cited the Robert Treat Academy in Newark as an example of a school that has already opened for the new school year and has taken extra steps to compensate for the effects of poverty.

He told NorthJersey.com of his visit last week to Robert Treat Academy, a charter school that boosted student achievement in the face of bad odds in poor neighborhoods. Its students started school Aug. 3 and will be there 203 days — well beyond the standard 180 days of regular public schools.

"But it's not just about having a longer day or year," Schundler said to the Press of Atlantic City. "It's about making sure the time is spent helping children."

Schundler told NJ.com that some schools should be allowed to accept only students whose parents pledge to visit the school periodically. "We have to make sure that in every district there are schools for children whose parents won't accept that requirement," he said.

Charter schools are public facilities operated by a private board of trustees. They are funded with public money through school districts where they are located. Schundler, Gov. Christie and President Obama support charter schools as an alternative for families with children in poorly performing schools. Schundler said he also supports more options within the public school system, such as academy programs at high schools.

The committee discussed a bill that would allow the Center for Effective School Practices at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education to authorize new charter schools in the state. Currently, only the State Department of Education can authorize charter schools, which limits the number than can be reviewed and approved each year.

Schundler said the DOE would like to have multiple entities that can authorize new charter schools and suggested the bill would allow interested entities to apply to become an authorizer.

School calendars are subject to bargaining between districts and local teachers' unions. Schundler said he wanted to make sure there were no legal barriers to districts that want to extend the school year but did not propose any specific legislation. "We want to make sure ... there is no presumption there will be only 180 days of so many hours," he said, according to NorthJersey.com.

At Robert Treat, the regular school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with early care starting at 7:30 a.m. and after care plus tutoring until 5:30 p.m. In 2008-09, only 6 percent of its eighth graders flunked state standardized tests for language arts, compared to 30 percent for other students from similar low-income backgrounds.

 

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