New Rules for Social Media in New Jersey’s Public Schools
By Dr. Richard Bozza
Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer approached me for comment on a critical issue: responsible use of social media in schools. It’s a national conversation that’s coming to a head in New Jersey because of recent legislation.
The legislation attempts to regulate good digital citizenship, a key issue not only for chief education officers and other administrators but for teachers and parents. Social media is increasingly pervasive in society—and schools, which are microcosms of our society, are no exception. Yet with young people, the ramifications of social media misuse can be dangerous and devastatingly life changing. Here’s how chief education officers can manage the discussion and take the lead on policy decisions to protect our staff and students.
New Jersey Lawmakers Enter the National Conversation on Social Media
First, it’s important to understand how lawmakers are framing the discussion. The first bill (A3292) requires public school districts to teach our middle school students about the responsible use of social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The bill’s goal is to reduce cyber bullying. It will take effect in the 2014-15 school year.
The second bill (S441), signed into law on April 24, 2014, requires districts to adopt policies concerning electronic communications between employees and students. This includes e-mail, texting and Internet-based social media. For example, teachers would not be allowed to “friend” their students on Facebook or to text them—cutting off the potential for an inappropriate relationship.
Why Legislation Like This Is Needed
The New Jersey Association of School Administrators and the New Jersey School Boards Association support both bills. School district policies and curricula have to respond to the new reality—that we’re functioning in a digital world. At issue is the safety of our students and staff.
Consider the repercussions when something goes horribly wrong in that digital world. It can range from humiliation to shunning to lawsuits to paying the ultimate price—tragically, suicide. Cyberbullying is inherent in this anonymous medium. Watch our video on cyberbullying to review some of the issues faced by teachers, parents and students.
It is clear we need to prepare our students and staff to deal with these issues, effectively pre-empting them rather than reacting to them after the fact. Unfortunately, we don’t have the past to help inform our actions. We don’t have a single model on which to rely; even the gaming fad of the latter 20th century didn’t include many of the issues inherent in social media. We’re learning as we go, making educated decisions based on the kinds of problems that have surfaced. Importantly, our cyber policies will continue to morph as new situations arise or new technologies present opportunities for misuse.
NJ Schools Encourage Students to Bring Technology
USA Today picked up a story from the Asbury Park Press last September about New Jersey’s bring-your-own-device programs. Many of our schools are encouraging students to bring in their tablets, smart phones and laptops to save money on technology budgets.
I was quoted as saying, “Before, in schools we were worried that when phones became smartphones they'd be distractions and (students would) do things inappropriately, but we need to get over that and recognize the power kids have in their hands.”
It’s clear now that without the proper guidance, students could use that power inappropriately. That’s where responsible digital leadership comes in. We need to have programs in place that educate students, teachers and parents.
Kudos to Colleagues Who Are Taking the Lead
Legislation is mandating social media and digital communications policy, but many of New Jersey’s districts already are taking action. Here are just three examples:
· In Mount Laurel, Superintendent Antoinette Rath has had a written policy on social networking and electronic communities since 2009. The district also holds an annual cyber safety workshop for parents.
· The Haddonfield district requires sixth graders to take a course that teaches responsible Internet use.
· In Somerville, a policy in development prohibits teachers from “friending” students on social networking sites or sending text messages to students.
5 Tips to Promote Good Digital Citizenship in Your District
1. Look at the current state of your digital communications policies and where you would like to see them in the future. Then outline the steps that will take you there.
2. Research your options. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Learn what other districts are doing. Duplicate their successes, and weigh in on the conversation with your own successes and challenges.
3. Build consensus anytime you are launching new policies. Share the vision. Give each of your stakeholders—teachers, parents, students—a chance to ask questions and make suggestions.
4. Put your policy in writing. Post it online on your website. Email it to your teachers and school families. Review its tenets at Back to School Night and staff meetings. Make sure everyone is clearly aware of your district’s policies.
5. Teach students, teachers and parents how to build successful learning communities in a digital world. We can work together to harness the power of digital communications and avoid the dangers.
Now is Your Chance to ‘Weigh In’
We need you to be part of the conversation. How are you educating staff and students about social media in your district? We would like to spread the word about what Chief Education Officers are doing to help protect New Jersey’s students and staff. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.
There have been a lot of changes in New Jersey education over the last several years and it’s only going to continue to move in a more modern direction, fueled by technology. It’s important that New Jersey school districts continue to communicate and work together to make these transitions as smooth as possible, and share our experience for the betterment of New Jersey education. With so many issues facing New Jersey chief education officers in the coming year, how we can minimize stress and disruption in the classroom?
Below we discuss some of the major education issues facing New Jersey school districts, but we also discuss them at our professional development seminars where we are able to learn from each other’s experience and expertise. This is a very important time in New Jersey education and we are the chosen ones responsible for shaping what education looks like in the future.
Longer School Day And Year
Governor Chris Christie called for a major scheduling change during his 2014 State-of-the-State address. He wants longer school days and a longer school year. We recognize that a 180-day school year and a six-hour school day are both relics of the past. That’s why extending the school day and year has been part of the education dialogue for decades, but the challenge is in the implementation.
There is a cost—in staffing and facilities. According to nj.com1, an elementary school in Arizona added 132 hours to the school year at a cost of $290 per student, while a school in Massachusetts added 540 hours at a cost of $1,695 a student. When calculated as cost per hour per student, the additional expenses ranged from $2.20 to $5.23.
Who will pay for the additional time for schools to be open? Is the funding going to come from already strapped school budgets?
Common Core Implementation
Forty-five states, including New Jersey, have adopted the Common Core standards and are in the process of implementing new curriculum. The standards require an interactive approach to testing. We can no longer evaluate students in a classroom with paper and pencil tests. But some schools don’t have enough devices—and all districts are going to be challenged by budgeting for this expense.
Not only that, switching over to interactive testing is going to be cumbersome, at least initially. We’ll have to plan to minimize any disruption to the educational process.
Here are some tips to keep stress in the classroom low:
Teacher and principal assessment now requires multiple measures, which is good in theory. In reality, it’s challenging. There’s limited time for administrators to complete the increased number of classroom observations. But the stakes are high. After all, the results will determine whether teachers and principals keep their jobs.
New Jersey has long underfunded the state pension system. Now it’s trying to ‘catch up’ with a funding commitment over the next seven years. Again, that’s good in theory. In practice, however, that means less money for school budgets. These are budgets are already stretched to the limit. Yet the state continues to require districts to do more, with less.
New Jersey’s Chief Education Officers are working hard to confront these challenges and others.
We’re at an exciting time in New Jersey schools, at a crossroads of traditional methods and a futuristic focus. Our goal is to determine what a successful public education system will look like in 2020 and beyond.