The Commissioner of Education established a collaborative work group in 2003 to develop policy and guidance to strengthen academic performance of Abbott students in grades 6 through 12. The work group included secondary teachers and principals, Abbott district superintendents, academics, consultants and representatives of the Education Law Center. The groups recommendations were embodied in the departments regulations for the 2004-05 school year and constitute the "Abbott Secondary Education Initiative." The Initiative has three goals:
- To break up large middle and high schools into smaller schools or "learning communities;"
- To increase the rigor of instruction and course-taking so that entering 9th graders are prepared for college preparatory work and high school graduates are ready for university instruction; and,
- To ensure that every student receives regular and personalized attention from at least one adult professional.
The department has selected four Abbott districts - Jersey City, Orange, Elizabeth, and Bridgeton - to work with national consultants and the department to plan for district-wide conversion of large secondary schools into smaller learning communities by September 2006. These "Phase I" efforts will be used to set standards and procedures for the remaining districts to plan for smaller learning communities and personalization by September 2008. The second emphasis during Phase I will focus assistance to districts on better middle grade preparations for English I and Algebra I and on the elimination of "soft" courses that fail to prepare students for the content and skills tested on state assessments.