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Education Reporter

Grass Roots Reject School-to-Work in New Jersey

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MONTVALE, NJ - The impact of the grassroots movement to expose the School-to-Work (STW) agenda in the Garden State has become increasingly widespread. Citizens' groups have sponsored monthly seminars to educate the public about the proposed new state STW regulations at sites as diverse as an historic county courthouse, a corporate auditorium, a church basement, and a school cafeteria in Westfield, NJ, where 200 people attended.

The new regs require that all high school juniors and seniors spend one day every week working in a job, community service, or school-based enterprise, beginning with the 2000-2001 school year. By the 11th grade, students would be required to choose one of 14 career majors. Kindergartners would be encouraged to think about careers, and 5th graders would be asked to develop career plans.

At the Westfield seminar, New Jersey Eagle Forum president Carolee Adams relayed information on STW gleaned from her attendance at the Governor's Summit on Education in Palisades, NY, and at the Capitol Hill Forum on Goals 2000 in Washington, DC. Joyce Powell, Secretary-Treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association, which opposes STW, also spoke at the meeting. The next morning, a local newspaper headline shouted: "School-to-Work Mandates Four-Day Week; Worries Parents at Forum."

The grassroots seminars have prompted a wave of negative publicity about STW. Since last spring, North New Jersey's leading newspaper, The Record, has published a series of articles on STW, including an editorial last May entitled "Going Too Far With Relevance. . . . The state wants work training for all students." The Record's editorial board condemned the state's mandate, and recommended that schools meet the more important challenge of teaching students to read and do arithmetic.

Following the publication of that article, the New Jersey State School Board Association announced it would hold a series of public hearings, the first of which took place last October. At that hearing, the proposed graduation requirements and assessments were discussed. At a third hearing, only three testimonies were presented in favor of the regulation changes, with more than 35 opposed. Much of the opposition came from school board members, teachers, and school administrators. Additional hearings are scheduled for early 1999. They will focus on career majors, mandated in the new regs by no later than 10th grade, and the entire STW program.

Susan LeGlise, superintendent of Holmdel High in Monmouth County, a school that boasts of high SAT scores and below average per-pupil costs, protested the new regulations by wearing an oversized "one size fits all" dress to one of the hearings to demonstrate her opinion of the program. Holmdel was one of two school districts that had resolutions pending to ban STW, and has subsequently adopted an anti-STW resolution. Holmdel school board members are seeking support for their position against STW from their peers throughout the state via email, personal contact, and articles published in the New Jersey School Board Association publication, The Leader.

Coincidentally, the newspaper Education Week reported on the publication of a 204-page report by a New Jersey research firm asserting that School-to-Work programs will likely fade away by 2001, along with the federal dollars that fund them. The report, entitled "Expanding Options for Students: Report to Congress on the National Evaluation of School-to-Work Implementation," by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., states that STW initiatives are not receiving the necessary funding commitments for state and local partnerships, nor are they at the core of state efforts to boost academic standards. For these reasons, "the overall vision of the system may slip into the shadows of the many other competing demands on schools and teachers."

The researchers based their findings primarily on an evaluation of STW programs in eight states that have received federal grants from the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994: Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin. Funding for the federal act expires in 2001.

In 1994, New Jersey received a federal grant of $37 million, and currently has 43 STW programs operating throughout the state. The proposed new regs will make STW mandatory for all students, whether they want to participate or not.

At least some of the blame for the proposal is being laid at the door of Governor Christine Todd Whitman. New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine accused Whitman's administration of "implementing a long list of big-spending, big-government programs that violate both the principle of individual responsibility and the principle of local control." He denounced the STW proposal as "her administration's latest travesty."

The New Jersey State Assembly has also entered the fray. Assembly Resolution AR146, introduced by Assemblyman Scott Garrett of Sussex County, the site of the first grassroots seminar, introduced an STW Resolution in November which now has 15 cosponsors. Although the resolution does not have the force of law, it has provoked discussion among the legislators, and a press conference is scheduled for this month.

Garrett even opposes a voluntary STW program that offers grants because such a financial incentive would encourage schools to participate. "Poor schools would be forced to volunteer," he predicts. "If the state is saying 'we'll come up with guidelines and regulations,' that's not voluntary, because the heavy hand of government is hanging over the schools."

At an STW panel discussion sponsored by the Public Education Institute (PEI), housed at Rutgers University, panel members included a high school principal who confirmed the logistical nightmare STW would create, and noted the unacceptable mandate it imposes on parents. The Executive Director of PEI ended the conference by referring to education philosopher Mortimer Adler, commenting: "Vocational education is education for slaves."

The diverse opposition to School- to-Work (also known as School-to-Career and School-to-Career and College Initiatives) in New Jersey continues to grow. The Newark Star-Ledger, New Jersey's leading newspaper, put the blame squarely on Governor Whitman with the headline: "A Governor With Principle Would Reject School-to-Work."

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