|9-13-11 In the News - Education Transformation Task Force Report|
Monday, 12 September 2011 16:03
By Tom Hester Gov. Chris Christie on Monday called the initial report of his Education Transformation Task Force a strong first step in his effort to change and improve the way New Jersey’s public school function.
The governor said the report also provides recommendations on how to reduce the regulatory burden in an attempt to make it easier for schools and educators to focus their efforts on classroom innovations.
The recommendations, to be followed by a final report submitted by the Task Force on Dec. 31, are described as a critical element of what Christie calls his four “Building Blocks for Success in New Jersey's Schools,” including changes to address educator performance and accountability, academics and standards in the education system.
"This report confirms that we need to provide a new accountability system that works for our educators and students, and that sensibly moves us toward a system that values educational results over bureaucratic red tape," Christie said. "Every aspect of our education system must be centered around ensuring that every one of our children has the opportunity to get an effective education that prepares them for a successful future. These recommended changes to our accountability system mark a first step toward additional education reforms that we will be pursuing to modernize the fundamentals of our education system and our schools."
The Task Force was commissioned by the governor to examine how well New Jersey's education system is meeting its goal of helping students graduate from high school ready for college or the workforce.
Its two basic tasks are to examine ways to eliminate potentially burdensome regulations to free educators to focus on improving classroom studies and to review accountability systems, including the state's Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) and federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.
The initial report provides recommendations to change the accountability system by moving to a single, streamlined system, focusing on student learning - and eliminating what it sees as deficiencies in the two current accountability systems of QSAC and NCLB.
The changes, which would be sought through a federal waiver of the NCLB law and statutory changes, would replace the current accountability system with what the governor sees as less administratively burdens for districts.
Christie said the initial report represents a first step towards changes, with recommendations that outline key challenges in the existing system and guidance for moving forward with a new system.
The report also includes 45 specific recommendations to reduce red tape, changes designed to help schools to streamline their operations and focus every possible resource on critical priorities like student learning and performance, rather than compliance.
Christie said the result will mean schools would be less focused on regulatory compliance and more focused on efforts that help all of children receive a solid education.
"State government should be in the business of supporting the great work being done in the vast majority of our state's schools, rather than just overseeing a web of rules and regulations that monopolize time, energy and resources from our educators," Christie said. "The 45 regulations identified for elimination in this report are a down payment on this reform to our state's teachers and administrators and an indication of my Administration's commitment to getting out of the way of excellent schools and prioritizing classroom results over paperwork, while still ensuring that standards and accountability are high and that the safety and fiscal integrity of our education system are uncompromised."
"Alleviating onerous regulations will give school leaders the flexibility they need to drive innovation in the classroom and deliver quality educational outcomes for New Jersey's 1.4 million students," state Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said. "To do that we must refine the partnership between accountability for results and the empowerment of educators to determine the right strategies to achieve those results."
Here are the recommendation as described by the governor’s office:
New Jersey needs to develop a new accountability system that is transparent, fair and rigorous, and that sets high expectations for both our students and those charged with delivering the promise of a quality education to them. Our current system, consisting of two schemes that do not complement one another and that contain fundamental flaws, falls far short of this mark.
New Jersey schools currently operate under two unconnected and often contradictory accountability systems, the federal No Child Left Behind law and the state's Quality Single Accountability Continuum. While NCLB has played an important role in shining a light on student achievement and reinforcing that school district failure must have consequences, it suffers from basic flaws including a failure to credit districts for progress and a one-size-fits-all approach to failing schools.
Likewise, the state's QSAC has strayed from its original intention as a pathway to State takeover or restoration of local authority, and instead has become a system focused on "inputs" rather than measures of student achievement or "outputs." Importantly, it has failed fundamentally in driving district improvement where it is most needed.
The Task Force has recommended the development of a single, unitary and streamlined accountability system consisting of the best and most practically important aspects of both QSAC and NCLB - those that focus on measures of student learning and achievement - and eliminates the deficiencies of each system. This new system would serve as the basis of a waiver request to the federal government from NCLB.
The new accountability system would focus on the following principles:
• Focus on schools, more than districts, as the accountable unit
• Emphasize "outcomes" (graduation rates, achievement gains) rather than "inputs"
• Measure success by high standards directly correlated to college and career readiness
• Recognize academic progress, not absolute achievement levels, as the proper benchmark for success
• Consist of considerably less paperwork and fewer bureaucratic demands on districts, so that schools can focus on what matters most
• Include a clearly articulated schedule of interventions for schools experiencing persistent educational failure
New Jersey's public schools are governed by an astoundingly dense and complex array of laws and regulations. Many of these are appropriate and worthwhile, setting standards for learning results, transparency, and health and safety requirements. But in many instances, the host of statutes, rules and regulations has gone too far.
Embedded within 1,200 pages of statutes and 1,000 pages of regulations is a host of rules that needlessly burden our educators. In some cases, such as the regulation specifying how districts must store student records, these policies are hard to understand and even harder to justify. These overly prescriptive rules and regulations inhibit the initiative of teachers, school leaders and administrators and stifle creativity in schools and central offices throughout the state.
While the review of these thousands of pages of regulation continues to take place, the Task Force has evaluated and made initial recommendations for the elimination of regulations that do not directly advance student learning, safety or fiscal integrity, and that have served to hinder schools' flexibility and resources to operate.
45 Initial Recommendations for Regulatory Changes or Elimination
The recommendations in this report range from the simplistic to the fundamental, including such basic changes as removing restrictions on what type of paper districts can print their report on and allowing districts to move toward electronic record keeping and storage, rather than hard student records.
Other recommended changes will help districts drive innovation rather than simply comply with regulations that were perhaps well-intentioned but lack a focus on outcomes for students. For example, current code requires each teacher to log 100 hours of approved professional development every five years. The Task Force recommends changes to help this regulation drive innovation in student learning by allowing districts to experiment with different approaches to professional development, such as Professional Learning Communities.
A full catalogue of the initial recommendations, including all 45 regulatory recommendations, can be found in the full report attached to this release.
These recommendations are preliminary and the Task Force will continue to solicit public input before the final report in issued at the end of December.
The Task Force is chaired by former state Education Commissioner David C. Hespe of Montgomery.
—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
Asbury Park Press, New Jersey Press Media - NJ seeks No Child Left Behind waiver; Chris Christie ready to refocus on education reform … “Marlboro schools Superintendent David C. Abbott, who did not attend Christie’s roundtable, said in an interview that many of the proposals have been advocated by superintendents for a long time, such as getting rid of the picky requirements.The once-every-three-years review “doesn’t help us get better,” Abbott said. “We spent hundreds of hours preparing for it, and it didn’t give us anything internally. It didn’t give us anything we didn’t already know.”But Abbott said Christie may be hoping for change faster than it can happen…”
'No Child Left Behind' requirements and other changes are sought
By Jason Method: 609-292-5158; email@example.com
PENNINGTON — For parents and students, this is back-to-school time. For Gov. Christie, it’s back to education reform.
Christie and his top education chief said Monday the state would seek a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements and move forward on other proposed changes to state tests and curriculum standards.
Christie and acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf made the announcement during an open meeting with three superintendents and the chair of Christie’s task force on education.
Cerf said that a new, tougher high school exam could be in place for the 2012-13 school year. Cerf had previously discussed making New Jersey students pass an exam or exams, much like the New York Regents Exam, in order to graduate.
Although students currently are expected to pass the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment, the test is considered closer to an eighth-grade level test and there are alternatives to obtaining a diploma other than passing the test.
Christie is rebooting again on education reform, and other education-related events are scheduled for this week.
Christie spoke often of the need to improve schools, particularly in low-income school districts, during his first year in office after he tapped reform-minded former GOP gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler to head his education department.
But then Christie fired Schundler in a dispute over the federal Race to the Top grant application, and a new education chief then needed to be hired. Cerf was chosen to replace Schundler.
In January, Christie declared 2011 the year of education reform, and a key legislator promised that teacher tenure changes would be passed by the end of June.
But fights over pension and benefit reform, then the state budget, interrupted lawmakers’ plans before Hurricane Irene arrived.
Christie and Cerf said Monday they planned to do away with a bureaucratically burdensome set of requirements for schools that set the placement of flagpoles and the height of water fountains.
They said they wanted to hold schools accountable, but also wanted relief from the federal No Child Left Behind requirements, which demand that students in various classifications of race and background, including disability, make progress on state tests every year.
As he has many times in the past, Christie, a Republican, decried the achievement gap between students in wealthier suburban districts and those in low-income districts. He said Republicans and Democrats agreed that changes need to be made.
“Education, for all of us, is supposed to be the great equalizer. … It is supposed to be the thing to bring us to higher and higher levels of success,” Christie said. “To not acknowledge the failures we have around us, to not acknowledge the moral failings … is unacceptable.”
Cerf also announced he had reorganized the state Department of Education around four main goals: academic standards; innovation; accountability and performance; and talent, meaning the effectiveness of educators.
Richard Kaplan, superintendent of the New Brunswick School District, said it was good for the state to fully align tests to the information and content the state says that schools are expected to teach.
Only about 35 percent of the test questions cover such standards, he said.
Marlboro schools Superintendent David C. Abbott, who did not attend Christie’s roundtable, said in an interview that many of the proposals have been advocated by superintendents for a long time, such as getting rid of the picky requirements.
The once-every-three-years review “doesn’t help us get better,” Abbott said. “We spent hundreds of hours preparing for it, and it didn’t give us anything internally. It didn’t give us anything we didn’t already know.”
But Abbott said Christie may be hoping for change faster than it can happen. Putting in a new, rigorous high school test would result in “massive failure in the urban centers,” Abbott said. “You can’t get to where they rightfully want to go in a year. It’ll take a whole process to do that, probably a generation.”
And trying to make teachers more competitive with each other will also not happen quickly, he added.
“Teachers are more concerned about relationships than about achieving more than one another,” Abbott said. “When I give awards to teachers, they don’t even put them up, because they don’t want to outshine one another. It’s a different culture. It’s going to take a while for (achievement) to become pre-eminent.”
A spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, which has battled with Christie over a number of issues, said the union would consider the recommendations in the report.
Spokesman Steven Baker said, however, that statistics showing a great achievement gap between noneconomically disadvantaged school districts and economically disadvantaged districts were misleading because the New Jersey has high concentrations of poverty and wealth.
More than a century ago, a county superintendent annually visited a public school in New Jersey to check its buildings (including outhouses), the "efficiency of the teachers," and the "character, record and standing of the pupils."
Jump cut 100 years and public schools -- according to critics -- are burdened by more than 1,000 pages of regulations and 1,200 of statute. And Gov. Chris Christie is the most recent governor to decide things have gone too far.
Yesterday, Christie launched the latest phase of his school reform agenda with a plan -- or a loose timeline -- for revising the rulebook.
"These requirements often come out of either a good idea that wasn't implemented correctly or a bad idea that shouldn't have been approved in the first place," Christie said.
Christie will be doing a series of these events. Another is planned for today in Cherry Hill.
On Monday, it was a roundtable discussion at Hopewell Valley Central High School. Christie and his education commissioner, Chris Cerf, invited several superintendents to discuss the recommendations of the Education Transformation Task Force to ease the bureaucratic burdens on school districts.
Stressing Student Achievement
The discussion centered on the administration's long-running plans to replace the state's monitoring process with a system that stresses student achievement over complying with policies.
Cerf has made that a centerpiece of his reorganization of the Department of Education. But replacing the current monitoring system would likely require legislative approval, no easy lift.
Still the task force furnishes more fuel for that effort, as well as other streamlining, which helps explain why the acting commissioner called the report a "revolutionary and powerful set of recommendations."
The task force was headed by former commissioner David Hespe, now Cerf's chief of staff. Its report includes a series of smaller recommendations for reviewing, if not repealing, specific administrative code that dictates everything from the staffing of custodians to the kinds of paper that schools may use.
Mandate reviews like this have been undertaken by governors every decade of so, but Christie has put more heft behind this one with an executive order last spring that ordered the review.
What was included in the task force's 49 recommendations was an indicator of Christie's and Cerf's priorities. For instance, the report contained eight recommendations for loosening regulations on charter schools.
For instance, Cerf has lately pressed that charters be held more accountable for their performance once approved, but the task force took a different tack in suggesting ways for them to get started.
One recommendation would no longer require charters to have physical locations or serve contiguous communities, an opening for virtual charter schools that the state has preliminarily approved but have yet to open.
Another would no longer require charter schoolteachers have the same tenure rights as those in traditional schools, touching on another favorite issue of the governor.
Even more recommendations centered on the districts providing preschool, both in their own schools and through private providers. One would lift the requirements that private centers have at least 90 students, a disincentive for smaller programs, the report said.
Another would revisit a requirement that programs have "community parent involvement specialists," with the report saying parent involvement is important but districts should have flexibility to provide those services "in ways they deem appropriate."
Other recommendations ranged from the sweeping to the mundane. Of the former, the task force questioned a regulation that requires every teacher have 100 hours of professional development every five years, a requirement that started in 2005 after considerable debate as to what is the best way to require continuous training of teachers.
Easier to change may be the requirement that a custodian be hired for every 17,500 square feet of building space. "It has come to establish a norm for districts that was not intended," read the report.
In one area that is often a complaint of school districts, there was little said about special education. The only recommendations related to classroom aides and the certification of outside providers' business administrators.
And then there is the infamous paper requirement -- more accurately, prohibition. Districts are not to use "multigloss publications instead of less expensive alternatives" in public relations materials. The regulation becomes an issue every few years, when districts are reprimanded for their excessive public relations campaigns, but the task force called it "overly prescriptive."
"The Department should not be in the business of determining what kinds of paper districts use," the report read.
Garden State Coalition of Schools