- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A later Labor Day this year means early school start dates in many New Jersey districts.

Most of the state’s schools usually open in the days after the end-of-summer holiday. But with it coming later this year, many districts are opening for classes this week.

Labor Day fell on Sept. 1 last year; this year it’s Sept. 7.

Here’s a look at what’s changing in public schools across the state.

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CHANGE IN STANDARDS

Gov. Chris Christie announced in May that he believes the nationwide Common Core curriculum standards are not working and that he was ordering the state to back away from them.

But as the school year opens, the standards - which are the subject of political contention - remain in place.

The state Education Department was planning to announce on Wednesday members of a curriculum review task force and dates for public sessions on the standards.

The Common Core standards spell out what academic skills students should master at each grade level, with the theory that such an approach can ensure a quality education at schools across the country. They have been adopted by most states. The federal government, through a grant program, encourages states to use them. But they’re unpopular with many parents and educators and are seen by some as an overreach of federal policy into areas traditionally handled by state government and local school boards.

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CHANGE IN TESTS

Last year, New Jersey and 10 other states used a new standardized test developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Preparedness for College and Careers.

The exam promises to give educators and parents more details about how students are performing. But the first time through, it caused administrative headaches and confusion and sparked a boycott movement.

This school year, the test will be a bit more streamlined, with students taking the exam once in the spring rather than twice.

The tests are designed to measure how well students are learning the Common Core standards.

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CHANGE IN CHARTERS

Four new public charter schools are opening this month.

The schools receive public funding but operate outside traditional school districts. Supporters say they give options to students and families that are not well served by traditional public schools; critics contend they take some of the top students and funding from regular schools.

Studies have shown that some outperform traditional schools.

The new ones are the Bridgeton Public Charter School and the College Achieve Central Charter School, serving Plainfield and North Plainfield; the Empowerment Academy Charter School in Jersey City; and the International Academy of Atlantic City Charter School serving Atlantic City and Pleasantville.

The openings bring the total number of charters in the state to 89.

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CHANGE IN TEACHER CONTRACTS

Teachers are getting raises this year of about 2.5 percent, according to a New Jersey School Boards Association survey of collective bargaining contracts.

But many of those raises come along with the requirement that teachers put in more hours with longer school days or more days of classes.

The survey also finds that nearly one-third of the state’s districts are starting school without teacher contracts.

It’s illegal for public school teachers in New Jersey to go on strike, though some have done so in the past.


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