On March 7th, State Education Commissioner Lucille Davy presented a plan to reorganize the New Jersey Department of Education. The State Board of Education approved the plan, even though the education stakeholders and advocates were given no opportunity to review and give input on the plan. The final plan is still not available.
The Commissioner’s sudden action comes before a performance evaluation of the Department by independent consultants has been launched, a study required by legislation signed by Governor Jon Corzine on January 29th. The legislation, Joint Resolution 1 (JR1) , authorizes up to $750,000 for the evaluation, including recommendations for how best to reorganize the NJDOE.
The Commissioner’s new reorganization plan eliminates, moves or renames divisions and offices responsible for key substantive areas. For example, the Office of Early Childhood Education is now a Division. The Division of Abbott Implementation is now the Office of Abbott Services. The plan consolidates authority over all Departmental functions under three new senior managers: Special Assistant to the Commissioner Donna Arons, Esq., manages school funding and field services; Chief of Staff Brendan Gill manages fiscal monitoring and school facilities; and Willa Spicer has been named Deputy Commissioner to oversee curriculum and assessment, and numerous school and district improvement activities.
JR3, when initially introduced in the Legislature, provided only for the Commissioner to complete a reorganization of NJDOE in four months. When legislators complained about serious problems with the Department’s performance of its responsibilities, the bill was changed to require that outside experts be brought in to thoroughly review all of the Department’s operations, and make recommendations for improvements, including ways to reorganize so the agency can do a better job.
The Legislature’s demand for an independent evaluation resulted from longstanding concerns with the Department’s inability to provide effective and timely oversight and support to local districts and schools. These deficiencies include:
- the unreliable and insufficient quality of education data collection, recently identified as a serious problem by the US Chamber of Commerce.
- the continuing use of outdated budget software, making it difficult to link district and school funding to specific programs, staff and positions.
- a large number of vacancies in the school facilities unit, causing a more than one year delay in approving districts’ 2005 long-range facilities plans
- the absence of a coordinated and robust education research agenda to find out which education programs are working, including a failure to follow through on Court-ordered evaluation of the Abbott reforms.
- the issuance of audits and school improvement reports, without having high quality technical assistance ready to help local educators make changes called for in the reports.
To date, the Treasury Department has not issued a bid for the independent evaluation, nor has specifications on its scope and cost been released by the Governor’s office.
The Department and State education officials must ensure a “thorough and efficient” education for all public school students. They also must undertake a wide range of critical activities, such as implementing the NJ core curriculum content standards, the State testing system, the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Abbott programs and reforms, and others. In addition, the Department bears the important responsibility of providing timely and quality data and information about our public schools to students, educators, legislators and taxpayers.
The Department urgently needs a top-to-bottom, independent review of its operations, not another superficial makeover. Advocates, education groups and concerned taxpayers must make sure Governor Corzine follows through.
Prepared: March 23, 2007
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications