Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Improving the ability to survey students.

Today the NJ Senate Education Committee is holding a hearing on a bill, S-1696/A-3242, which will change (slightly) the way that schools secure parent permission to survey students. Sort of surprising that word of this bill is just now reaching Ridgewood, since the current law was inspired by the infamous Ridgewood survey of 1999. And surprising, too, (encouraging!) that some lawmakers have the good sense to bring this issue forward. The current law seriously undermines the ability of a community to collect data on issues that affect our students and to appropriately and locally develop solutions to keep our children safe and healthy.

The bill would allow students to participate in a voluntary survey if the district sends prior written notification to the student's parents, and the parent does not object. This is known as “passive consent” and the important word to note is consent. This bill does not “ignore” or “take away” parents’ rights. Parents absolutely have the right to prohibit their child from participating in a survey. In fact, some argue that passive consent maintains that option with increased anonymity.

Why is this bill important? Information about youth use of alcohol and drugs is used by a community, and the state, to develop effective prevention programs. In comparing the participation rate and cost of conducting a survey as proposed in this bill versus the current law, the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services found the cost of implementing a survey would be $1.80 per student versus $16.97 per student - nearly 10 times the cost. The overall average response rate was 91% versus 42%. As anybody who understands statistics knows, the higher the participation rate, the more meaningful and useful the data. Under the current law, the DHSS has concluded that participation rates of 42% are not adequate to provide meaningful information about youth populations – not to mention that state agencies cannot afford to conduct statewide surveys if they cost 10 times more.

More and more, school districts are being charged with caring for more than simply the “book learning” of students. Schools – as a constant and consistent point of contact with youth – are expected, and in many ways legally required, to care for the whole child: education, social development, physical wellness, mental/emotional health, etc. Beyond schools, agencies such as the DHSS are certainly and directly responsible for physical and mental health of our youth. Making it more difficult to gather real information in order to do their jobs makes no sense. One of the tools both school districts and state agencies need is the ability to compile information related to youth trends regarding attitudes and use of alcohol and drugs. The best way to do this is via a voluntary and anonymous system that respects parental concerns about the material children are exposed to in surveys administered at New Jersey schools.

I’ll be following the progress of these bills and I’ll keep you posted. As you know, the New Jersey legislative process is unpredictable (at best), so who knows what will happen next, or when.


Anonymous said...

Sophistry, Laurie. Truly ideological sophistry. Thanks for sticking up for my rights as a parent.

Laurie said...

Hey, I'm a parent, too!

If you know me, and I believe you do, you'll recall that my position on this has not wavered over the years and it's not based on "ideology." I just want people who are charged with caring for our students (and by people I include myself and you and anyone else who wants to get involved, in addition to official entities such as the NJ Dept of Health & Senior Services) to have accurate data to inform their efforts. My argument is not ideological, it's very practical. What about yours?

As I said all those years ago, PLEASE survey my child! I want the facts! I want to know what's really going on in those adolescent heads. I don't care whose specific kids thinks what, but I do care what they're thinking overall and I don't believe the so-called grown-ups in town have a very good track record of guessing.

We all have rights, don't we?

Anonymous said...

The schools need to get into the education business. These surveys are a waste of time and money. Government - that includes the BOE - should stay out of our personal lives. Too much government! I am a democrat but I am starting to agree with the Tea Party. We need less government in our lives.

The person who said " PLEASE survey my child!" is not acting like a parent. If you are afraid to talk to your child then make up your own survey. Maybe you can't talk to your son/daughter but you can write notes:

Maybe group counseling can get you all talking.

Anonymous said...

Why do you feel that the BOE needs to survey the students every few yesrs? Will it help them develop a math program? Will it improve the science labs? I am sure that the results, whatever they are, will lead to some new program. Possibly another fabulous police department/high school venture. The kids really respond to that.

Laurie said...

I'm not advocating for any particular survey, just the type of permission that will allow surveys that are done to be more accurate.

Trenton is mandating that schools care for students beyond the school day and beyond the school's physical boundaries. Check out the new anti-bullying legislation, for example. Sometimes a survey might be helpful and, if so, then it should be able to collect as much data as possible to be valid. Not to mention less expensive.

@10:12, I didn't say anything about surveying students every few years. And I don't know what police/school venture you're referring to.

@3:13, I think you missed the point. It's not about me talking to my kid or you talking to your kid. It's about public health...it's about working together as a community for the good of all youth. And BTW, guess what, not all kids have parents who listen to them. Even in Ridgewood.

I advise you to disregard the lies, red herrings and sky-is-falling drama you may have read on other blogs re: this topic. Can't even respond to that fiction.

The bills in question were not even on my radar until someone emailed me regarding the Department of Health and Senior Services advocating for their passage so that they can do their job better. Seemed to make sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, there was nothing in the Ridgewood Blog post that was fiction. Please tell us what was not true.

Laurie said...

A brief snapshot of some of my issues with the Rwd blog post of June 28 would be:

I am not a “sex and drug survey advocate.” (Fiction)

I don’t want to “take away your rights.” (Fiction)

The bills, S-1696 & A-3242, were not legislation to “strip parents of their rights.” (Fiction)

There is no current survey being considered, planned or administrated in Ridgewood. The bills were not about any specific survey with any specific questions. Comments about “graphically sexual nature of the questions,” etc. are red herrings. There are no questions. If you’re referring back to the infamous Ridgewood survey of the past, may I respectfully suggest we move on. (Red herring)

BTW…“A couple of years later…NJ AG’s office decided it best not to oppose the bill… because they had been surveying kids in our urban districts for years without parental consent” Attribution, please? Source? Quote?

My comments mainly referred to the blog’s mischaracterizations of my intent, and the overall tone of the blog post and comments, which had a sensational sky-is-falling tone. The sky is not falling, there are no groups in Ridgewood, that I’m aware of, planning any specific surveys. I am not out to take away parents’ rights, and I don’t advocate forcing a child to take a survey that they don’t want to take. What I am advocating is that the state not simultaneously expect communities (both local and the statewide community) to care for our children’s health while also making it harder/more expensive to do so.

Education Focused said...

I believe that schools need to stick to the education of students and quit delving in to their personal lives. I disagree that schools are responsible for an expanded mission of treating every neurosis of every child. I also susupect - based on past experience - that the notice will be mailed out too close to the survey time to allow parents time to object. Why does the school need to know religious and political affiliations of the parents, as one present survey under consideration (sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Stender) does?