An “Education Transformation” Task Force established by Governor Chris Christie is proposing the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) eliminate many critical safeguards put in place to ensure New Jersey public school children receive a high quality, “thorough and efficient” education, as guaranteed by the State Constitution and numerous statutes.
The proposals, if adopted by Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, would drastically weaken State oversight and accountability for delivery of essential staff, programs and services in NJ schools, especially for at-risk students, students with disabilities and other vulnerable school children.
The Task Force is recommending the elimination of, or substantial changes to, rules governing such critical areas as education equity, student supports, preschool education, special education and facilities. Some of the regulations the Task Force proposes for elimination include:
? submission and NJDOE review of “Equity Plans” to ensure equal educational opportunity for all students, a longstanding requirement to promote racial balance and diversity in school districts;
? class size limits and intensive early literacy initiatives in high poverty districts and schools;
? staff ratios for preschool social workers and for early intervention teams to evaluate the needs of preschoolers for potential learning disabilities;
? submission and NJDOE review of detailed plans for bilingual or ESL programs for English language learner (ELL) students;
? submission of capital maintenance plans to ensure ongoing health, safety and other basic repairs in the school buildings across the state.
The Task Force offers no research, study or data to support its proposals for significant deregulation of the NJDOE’s core legal responsibility to supervise the delivery of public education. Instead the Task Force justifies its proposals on the basis of an unsupported claim that districts need greater flexibility.
The Task Force also cites the NJDOE’s shift to a “new accountability system,” which includes giving “Regional Achievement Centers” (RAC) discretionary power as outlined in the state’s NCLB waiver application. For example, although the Task Force concedes that , “many of the interventions have an appropriate, and perhaps critical, role in school improvement… the preferred approach is to remove the rules and instead to allow the Regional Achievement Centers to coordinate staged interventions.”
The NJDOE’s “new accountability system,” developed under the NCLB waiver process, has received minimal public input and no legislative review. Budgetary support for the new RACs was eliminated by the legislature last spring, but plans for their staffing and operation have proceeded with funding from private foundations.
The Task Force acknowledges that “until the legislature acts,” the new system “does not – and cannot – supplant or supersede” the state’s existing accountability framework, the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC). The NJDOE has already begun to implement the new system on an accelerated and ad hoc basis without clear statutory authority and without issuing the required regulations.
For these reasons, Education Law Center recently called on Commissioner Cerf to comply with New Jersey law by issuing regulations to provide detailed guidance to local districts, schools, teachers and parents on the NJDOE’s new public school accountability system.
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