ELC Calls for Temporary Suspension until NJDOE Adopts Required Regulations
The NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) is moving ahead with a major overhaul in the State’s public school accountability system without providing detailed rules to guide implementation of the new system in districts and charter schools, as mandated by state law.
The New Jersey Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires all state agencies, including the NJDOE, to propose and adopt regulations before implementing substantial changes in agency policy. The APA also requires the opportunity for public comment on the agency’s proposed rules. When NJDOE presented the general outlines of the new accountability policy in an application to the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from certain provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2011, education stakeholders, parents and the pubic had little opportunity to provide input on the proposals.
Having obtained a waiver from NCLB, the NJDOE is now directing local districts and charter schools to comply with the new accountability policy through ad hoc memoranda that provide scant detail on key elements of the new policy, in effect bypassing well established state law on agency rulemaking.
ELC notified the NJDOE of the agency’s failure to comply with the APA in an August 20, 2012 letter sent by David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director, to State Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf and the Attorney General’s Office. ELC has asked Commissioner Cerf temporarily suspend implementation of the accountability policy until regulations are proposed and adopted in accordance with the rulemaking process set forth in the APA.
In the letter to Commissioner Cerf, ELC points out that the NJDOE, in an April 11, 2012 memorandum and other informal communications, notified school districts and charter schools that they now must implement “a new accountability system” to “replace” pre-existing policies under NCLB, state law and NJDOE regulations. As described in the memorandum, the new system makes several major changes from prior policy, including:
? Applying a “new methodology” based on “annual measurable objectives” (“AMO”) to assess the performance of public schools, including charter schools, statewide;
? Defining and placing schools in three categories – “Priority, Focus and Reward Schools” – based on the new AMO methodology;
? Conducting “quality school reviews” in Priority and Focus Schools and requiring those schools to develop and “execute comprehensive School Improvement Plans” based on “eight turnaround principles,” in partnership with “Regional Achievement Centers;”
? Providing monetary payments and other recognitions to Reward Schools, including possible reallocation of federal Title I funds;
? Prescribing “interventions” for Priority and Focus Schools, including “removal and reassignment” of principals, professional development, use of a “model curriculum,” and hiring “full time specialists” to be “embedded in schools;”
?Prescribing a “three-year period” for Priority and Focus Schools to make improvements in academic achievement;
? Mandating “state ordered closure, replacement, or other action” for those Priority and Focus Schools that “fail to demonstrate” the NJDOE mandated level of improvement.
The NJDOE has already classified over 250 schools in low-income neighborhoods across the state as Priority and Focus Schools. These schools, which serve nearly 200,000 overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic students, are slated for “direct” State “intervention” as soon as this fall. By fast-tracking implementation, the NJDOE has deprived these communities and other affected stakeholders the opportunity to provide public comment on proposed rules, as required by the APA process, before local educators have to comply with the new policy.
“These new accountability mandates are substantial changes in state policy that require rulemaking before they can be imposed on our public schools and students,” said Mr. Sciarra. “More importantly, these new mandates will have a direct and significant impact on district and charter schools across the state, and could potentially result in school closings and other aggressive State action. It is absolutely critical that NJDOE provide detailed guidelines so everyone knows what the ground rules are in advance.”
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