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9-6-12 Education Task Force report on mandate relief released at State Board of Education meeting

Asbury Park Press - Christie task force recommends education law changes

5:09 PM, Sep 5, 2012 | Written by GEOFF MULVIHILL, | Associated Press


Gov. Chris Christie’s task force on education said Wednesday that the state should implement the governor’s major education recommendations, as well as get rid of regulatory provisions in an effort to give schools and their teachers more leeway for spending their resources and organizing their classrooms.

The recommendations range from big ideas — using public money to send some students to private schools — to small ones — ending the mandate that school districts employ one janitor for every 17,500 feet of building space.

In its final report, the Education Transformation Task Force convened by Christie a year ago called for changing the law to allow schools to lay off more experienced teachers if less experienced ones get better marks on evaluations and to put in place new standards for how schools under state control can become independent again.

The report echoes the Republican Christie’s philosophy for public schools: Increasing accountability for what and how well students learn while decreasing specific, standard requirements. The exception is for the most state’s lowest-performing schools, where Christie’s administration is attempting more intensive interventions.

His approach is the state government’s latest way to deal with a deep, longstanding problem for New Jersey’s schools. In a state where test scores, on average, are among the best in the nation, students in the state’s low-income cities often fall well short.

“We must concede that the world deals tragically bad hands to many children — burdening them with poverty, challenging home and community environments, and more — and that overcoming those challenges is extraordinarily difficult,” the report says. “At the same time, progress depends on our belief that talented educators and effective schools can make a profoundly significant difference in helping children achieve despite the challenges imposed by circumstances beyond their control.”

The report blames overregulation for many of the problems in running schools, finding that bureaucracy stifles innovation by making teachers and administrators focus on minor details instead of student learning, and that a “culture of overregulation” makes some educators think of compliance as success.

“This report makes some common sense suggestions to move our schools from organizations built to comply to ones built to educate,” state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said in a statement.

In all, the task force called for 428 changes to state regulations and 46 to laws. The regulatory changes can be made by the state administration, but the law ones would require legislative action.

If the changes were enacted, schools would no longer be told what kind of printer paper to use and they would be free to form voluntary single-sex classrooms, among other changes.

The Education Law Center, which has sued the state repeatedly to get more funding for low-income districts, criticized some of the recommendations on Wednesday. The center says it would be a step backward to have the state stop reviewing programs for students who are not native English-language speakers, to eliminate class size limits in high-poverty districts and to stop requiring school districts to submit plans for dealing with health and safety problems in their facilities.

Earlier this year, the Legislature adopted a law — signed by Christie — that makes tenure harder for teachers to get and easier for them to lose. That major change had the support of most of the state’s education interest groups, including the two largest teachers unions.

But the groups could not agree on one of Christie’s next priorities for school policy: Using teacher quality evaluations as a factor in determining which teachers lose their jobs in case of layoffs.

Christie said at a news conference Wednesday that he would continue pressing for his reforms.


Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill



NJ Spotlight - Red Tape Report Released, Will Department of Education Start Cutting?...At 239 pages, the report has room to address everything from paper to professional development

By John Mooney, September 6, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

The Christie administration finally released its report yesterday on ways to ease red tape and regulations that put New Jersey’s public school districts in a bind -- from what kinds of paper districts must use to teacher professional development and licensing.

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Covering more than 450 recommendations in all, much of the 239-page Education Transformation Task Force report ordered by Gov. Chris Christie more than a year ago addressed mundane issues such as paperwork and procedures.

Red tape reviews are common to nearly every administration. But this project went a step further in several regards, down to proposing language for new administrative code in several major areas and a schedule for seeing them passed.

“We have proposed code, ready to go -- that’s how we can have this aggressive timeline,” said David Hespe, a former education commissioner who headed the task force and served as state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s chief of staff before stepping down this month.

One big policy shift, for example, would eliminate the state’s decade-old 100-hour requirement for professional development, replacing it with more flexible rules that allow districts to develop their own plans.

The report also had its share of politically contentious recommendations that don’t speak much to red tape but advance Christie’s education agenda, including passage of the recently stalled school voucher proposal known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

It also proposed ending seniority rights for teachers, a favorite idea of Christie’s that didn’t survive the state’s recently enacted tenure reform law. In a separate press conference yesterday, Christie said that remained one of his top legislative priorities. “I’m not done with that issue yet,” he said.

The report, presented to the State Board of Education yesterday with little advance word, drew a quick rebuke from some advocates for poor schoolchildren who maintain it would lessen safeguards for students.

For example, some of the measures would apply to hard-fought requirements concerning preschool, facilities and class sizes that came out of the Abbott v. Burke school equity rulings.

The report also includes smaller items that will likely raise some questions, including one recommendation that would end the required dues for the state’s School Boards Association, a move that would potentially gut its funding.

Several state Board of Education members were quick to raise questions about a report they only received yesterday, pointing out that every regulation or statute has its constituency and reasoning.

“Each of these came about due to some incident,” said board member Dorothy Strickland. “There are all kinds of things there for a good reason.”

The paper requirement, in part, came out of the department's concerns several years ago that certain districts were spending too much on glossy promotions.

By all accounts, the report was a gargantuan effort, with teams of educators and lawyers poring over more than 3,000 pages of the state’s voluminous laws and administrative code over the past six months.

Hespe and others conceded that while there will be reasons behind each rule or law, the larger problem is that the state has gone too far in over-regulating nearly every minute of the day.

“By putting it all together like this,” he said of the report, “It becomes evident to how distracting this has become for districts.”

And even among the skeptical, state board members said they want to start chipping away at the code sections that the board oversees, tentatively setting up a schedule that would see much of the recommendations reviewed, if not passed, over the next year.

“Let’s keep to a timeline and take votes on this,” said board member Andrew Mulvihill. “Otherwise, we’ll be talking about his for two years.”



Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608

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