In testimony before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, Education Law Center reissued its call for the New Jersey Legislature to move quickly to repeal the provisions in the district monitoring law – the Quality Single Accountability Continuum or “QSAC” – authorizing State takeover of the operation of local school districts. ELC presented the testimony at a December 4 hearing of the Joint Committee soliciting input from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and other stakeholders on recommendations for making implementation of the QSAC law more effective.
“State takeover has proven to be a failed strategy for improving the performance of districts identified as needing assistance through QSAC, New Jersey’s school district monitoring mechanism,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “It also disenfranchises communities from crucial decisions affecting their schools and has been misused by prior administrations to promote so-called ‘education reform.’ It’s time to bring this sad chapter to an end.”
Before the Joint Committee, ELC noted that the district takeover provisions were incorporated into the QSAC monitoring law in 2005 to facilitate withdrawal of State-operation of the Newark, Paterson and Jersey City districts as quickly as possible. However, instead of exiting these districts as the Legislature intended, the State, under former Governor Chris Christie, refused to return them to local control and engineered the takeover of a fourth high poverty, racially isolated district – Camden. Under Governor Christie’s direction, the State then moved aggressively to close and replace district schools in the State-operated districts through the rapid expansion of charter schools.
In addition to ending State district takeover, ELC also recommended removing the curriculum and instruction component from the QSAC monitoring regime. ELC emphasized to the Joint Committee that QSAC is a mechanism to monitor compliance with basic district functions, such as fiscal, budget, governance and personnel. However, QSAC has proven ineffective as a strategy to support improvements in curriculum and instruction in schools designated as low performing.
ELC further noted that the identification of under-performing schools and requirements for State intervention to improve curriculum, instruction, professional development, student supports and other crucial issues are mandated separately under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). To implement ESSA, the NJDOE has separate rules for intervention in low performing schools, along with regulations mandating targeted resources and initiatives in districts classified as “high need.”
“The curriculum and instruction component of QSAC monitoring layers on top of federal school improvement requirements unattainable, test-based, performance benchmarks for districts, without any accompanying assistance,” said Mr. Sciarra. “From over a decade of experience, it’s now clear that QSAC monitoring does not support, but instead impedes, the intense focus required to bring about improvement and positive change in low performing schools in need of assistance from the NJDOE.”
ELC also recommended that the Joint Committee thoroughly examine the NJDOE’s role in improving curriculum and instruction in low performing schools and the Department’s capacity to bring strong leadership and quality technical assistance and support to these schools. Past efforts to provide such assistance, including the now defunct NJDOE Regional Achievement Centers (RACs), showed the Department lacks sufficient funding, resources and personnel to work collaboratively with principals, teachers and parents in sustained school improvement efforts.
QSAC is useful as a monitoring tool to periodically gauge district compliance with basic fiscal, governance and personnel requirements. But it does little to help districts improve curriculum, instruction and outcomes for students in their schools. ELC is calling for lawmakers to streamline the QSAC monitoring framework and shift its oversight responsibilities to ensure the NJDOE has the capacity to deliver high quality and timely assistance to schools in need of support.
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