November 10, 2011
Education Law Center has raised multiple concerns about the NJ Department of Education’s (NJDOE) draft application for a waiver from various provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In comments submitted to the NJDOE on November 8, ELC urged the Department to defer submission of the application from November 14 to the next application window in mid-February to address these concerns and obtain public input and support.
The Department acknowledges that its waiver plan, if approved, will have “a major impact on our state’s educators and families.” However, the NJDOE has presented only a broad outline of the plan, with few details, and offered just five days, including a weekend and an election day holiday, for public comment.
“A proposal that will have such far-reaching impact on our students and schools deserves a full and complete presentation of the specifics of the plan, with ample opportunity for legislative review and public input,” said ELC Executive Director David G. Sciarra. “A sketchy outline with five days for comment is simply unacceptable.”
“The NJDOE is proposing a wholesale replacement of our existing accountability system for New Jersey’s public schools,” Sciarra added. “Educators who will have to carry out the plan and legislators who will be asked to pass bills to implement the proposals have a right to examine all the details and analyze the effect on our students.”
In addition to inadequate time for review, ELC lists a number of issues in its comments about the Department’s proposals. One major concern is that the application does not address the costs of implementing the various proposals and the impact on State and local school district budgets. A recent report prepared by the California Department of Education estimated it would cost that state an additional $3 billion to meet the NCLB waiver conditions.
ELC also notes that the draft application proposes to create new “Annual Measurable Objectives” for every NJ school that would replace NCLB’s “adequate yearly progress” benchmarks, as well as new categories of “priority,” “focus” and “reward” schools. But the draft does not clearly define these criteria or include the required list of schools that would be subject to state intervention under the new system.
ELC also raises concerns that the waiver application:
- would suspend NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher” requirements and replace them with the Department’s untested evaluation system currently in the pilot stage;
- seeks to redirect Title I funds to give “rewards” to non-Title I schools, in direct conflict with the federal allocation’s purpose of helping to meet the educational needs of poor students;
- proposes vouchers for private and religious schools and for-profit management of public schools, even though such proposals are far outside the scope of the NCLB waiver and have not been enacted by the State Legislature.
The U.S. Department of Education (USED) has offered two opportunities to states to submit waiver applications, one on November 14 and another in mid-February. There is no penalty for waiting until February to submit the waiver application. In its comments, ELC urges Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf and the NJDOE to take advantage of the extra time offered by USED to revamp the proposal based on more in-depth analysis and stakeholder and public input.
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