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Abbott History

Section III
Abbott Districts’ Philosophical Embracement of the Abbott IV and V Measures

Introduction

This Chapter examines the degree to which the Abbott Districts philosophically embrace the various remedial measures prescribed in the Supreme Court’s decision. It is also concerned with the extent to which these measures, as they are communicated by the State to the districts in regulatory form are perceived to be compatible with prior or ongoing reforms, whether or not these reforms are indigenously or externally driven. An examination of the Districts’ support of the measures is important for several reasons. First, prior research has established that the success of an externally driven reform is highly contingent upon the local site’s endorsement of that effort. However, that level of support is influenced by a confluence of factors including the interpretation of the reform, local capacity, and the political environment (Massell, Kirst, & Hoppe, 1997). Second, the philosophical endorsement of policies in their ideal formulations cannot be taken ipso facto to imply support or acceptance of the directives or regulations that flow from them. It is therefore important to discern the point at which policies become undermined or destabilized by the conflicts and ambiguities generated by attempts at implementation. Third, to the extent that the externally driven reform lacks congruity with local initiatives and needs a potentially deleterious effect is set in motion which may erode the spirit and intent of the reform.

Findings from national studies on local school districts reaction to externally driven reform underscore why such lines of inquiry are important for the State. For example, Hertert, (1996) study of the response of local districts to systemic reform in nine states revealed that similar to the Abbott Districts, districts elsewhere in the country that are characterized by severe resource constraints uniformly expressed concerns about their States’ reform efforts in the areas of (a) coherence and integration across state policies, and (b) compatibility with local needs. State reform initiatives in Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota and Georgia were criticized for lacking policy integration and coherence. For example, districts complained about redundancy in reporting requirements, the omission of issues related to teacher education and preparation, and in Kentucky there were complaints about the contradictions in the state’s posture on reform and the reality of state actions. Specifically, Hertert noted that criticism was leveled at Kentucky for re-regulating rather than deregulating. Although one aspect of that state’s reform agenda called for the devolution of authority and decision making at the local level, districts complained that the state’s department of education continued to be directive in its relationship with them. In addition to the lack of policy integration, states’ reform policies were also criticized for their disconnection from local needs and initiatives. Schaffer, Nesselrodt and Stringfield (1997) in work of similar national scope, found that a critical impediment to reform in some districts was the incompatibility between some reform models and local curriculum. In particular, their study highlighted how one reform model, the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) ran into trouble in many of the schools which attempted to implement it because of its incompatibility with the prior curricular frameworks existing in most of the CES schools.

Given these findings, it is instructive for us to understand the base of support that exists among the Abbott districts for the Abbott 1V and V decisions. The remedies embodied in both rulings touch upon a wide range of issues that are both general in nature, and specific to improvement at the elementary and secondary levels. According to the Courts, these remedies are considered to be necessary for ensuring that public school children in the poorest urban districts receive the educational entitlements guaranteed them under the constitution. To that extent, the remedies as crafted are comprehensive and far-reaching in their implications for bringing about systemic change within these systems. However, a clear distinction must be made between the measures as they were defined by the Courts and the translation of these measures handed down by the State Department to the districts in the form of operational and regulatory guidelines for implementation. There is strong evidence to indicate that the varying interpretations of the meaning and intent of the Courts’ rulings have pitted the State Department of Education against several of the districts and groups legally advocating on their behalf. (Star Ledger, October 14, 1999). For example, it has been argued that the state’s directives which mandate that districts rely solely on the Department of Human Services non-educational standards for child care contradicts the Courts’ preschool standards implicit in Abbott as well as the State’s own position which it argued for in court (Education Law Center, 1999).6 Further, it has also been pointed out that the whole issue of standard based education that underlie the proposed remedial measures is obscured in the State regulations on implementation.

In measuring the degree to which the Abbott Districts embraced the remedies set forth by the Supreme Court in Abbott 1V and V, districts were first asked to evaluate each for its value to their overall goal for systemic improvement and then to evaluate the specific elementary and secondary measures for their potential contribution to meaningful improvement at these levels of schooling . The goal of this analysis was to determine the level of support for the measures as they were formulated in the courts’ rulings. The second set of analyses focused on establishing the reform environment of the districts prior to Abbott, and the degree to which the various directives regarding implementation from the NJDOE were perceived to be congruent with or at odds with aspects of the districts’ reform agendas. The districts’ responses are looked at singularly and are tabularly presented in Tables 3.1 through 3.5.

Findings

General Remedies

The proposed remedies in Abbott for system-wide improvement focus on issues related to parity funding, facilities improvement, professional development, local authority, instructional staffing and technology. Districts were asked to judge the importance of each of these general remedies for its potential contribution to their overall goal of systemic improvement. Table 3. 1 provides a rank ordering of the remedies based upon their perceived importance to systemic change. The five remedies that Districts strongly embraced as being vital to their improvement were funding parity (91%), facilities

improvement (82%), deferment by Commissioner to local authorities in program and budgeting decisions (71%), high quality professional development programs (69%) and instructional-based after-school and summer programs (67%). In all instances, more than two-thirds of those responding on behalf of their districts strongly agreed that these remedies were important to their districts’ established goals for transformation (Refer to Table 3.1).

Table 3.1
Rank Ordering of Abbott Remedies Importance for
District-wide Systemic Improvement

 

Abbott Remedies

Percent of Districts Strongly Agreeing to its importance

Funding Parity

91%

Facilities Improvement

82%

Deferment by State to Local Authorities

71%

High Quality Professional Development Programs

69%

After School and Summer Programs

67%

Ongoing Assessment of Student Needs

59%

Curriculum and Assessment Aligned with the Core Content Standards

55%

Additional Special Education Programs

55%

Reallocation of Existing Funding

43%

Special Instructional Staff-Music, Art

38%

Security

36%

Technologies

32%

Enhanced Nutritional Program

29%

Note: Number of Districts responding-22

To amplify these results, approximately ninety-one percent of the districts felt that parity in funding which would mean a per pupil cost of $8,800 was very important to bringing about improvement. However, districts did not see the measure that allowed for the reallocation of existing funds even if those funds did not undermine or weaken existing regular education or supplemental programs as being highly viable. Indeed, only 43% felt that reallocation was very important for systemic changes to occur. It is instructive to note that on this issue of reallocation there seems to be some disagreement between the State and Districts. While the districts on the one hand, would prefer a model of funding that does not entail the reallocation of existing fund to support new and expanding programs, the NJDOE on the other, sees this as the preferred strategy in instances where existing funds are inadequate. In its regulations issued June 1999, districts were advised by the NJDOE that "where funds available within the 1999-00 budget, together with anticipated revenue increases are not sufficient to support the proposed 2000-01 budget, all available resources should be reallocated for the purposes of implementing WSR, required secondary programs and as applicable particularized needs…" (New Jersey Department of Education, 1999:p 5). Some critics of the State’s position on this issue have argued that the Department of Education has failed to provide directives that would safeguard against weakening existing programs and services if reallocations were to occur.7

Of the Court measures that touch upon instructional and curricular issues that are examined in the Table, districts felt that programs or efforts that pertained to instructionally-based after-school and summer programs, high quality professional development for staff, ongoing assessment of students’ academic, health and social needs, alignment with the core curriculum content standards and special education programming had the greatest saliency for improvement. On all these measures, at least half of the respondents from the twenty-two districts felt that they were very important for systemic changes to occur. Programs, prescriptions or allowances with relatively low endorsement for their systemic impact were the hiring of special instructional staff, as needed, guidelines for technology staffing and hardware, guidelines for security guards, and enhanced nutritional programs.

Elementary Remedies

The most comprehensive measures prescribed by the rulings are directed at impacting on the education of elementary aged children. Described as whole school in their implications, these measures cover the areas of early childhood education, school governance, health and social programming. The concept of whole school reform as we intimated earlier, signifies an approach to change which encompasses all the major elements of a school’s environment and operations in contrast to other models of change which are singular in focus (Fashola and Slavin, 1997). Forwarded by the Commissioner as the driving force behind the transformation of elementary schools in the Abbott Districts, the court required the State Department to comport with the recommended whole school reform measures as

Table 3.2
Rank Ordering of Abbott Elementary Remedies Importance to
Improvement of Elementary Schooling

Elementary Remedy

Percent of Districts Strongly Agreeing to its Importance

Full-Day Kindergarten

84%

Preschool for Three And Four Year Olds

80%

Class size reduction

78%

Ninety minutes reading instruction

57%

Alternative to Success for All

50%

Extended Preschool

47%

Family Support Teams

43%

On-Site Health Services

43%

Parent Laision

33%

School-Based Management

25%

Success For All

14%

Note: Number of districts responding-22

expeditiously as possible. Examples of specific sub-components of the Whole School Reform model include the provisions of quality pre-school programs for three and four year olds, establishment of full day kindergarten for all eligible five-year olds, adoption of a Whole School Reform model with Success for All being the presumptive model, and a governance structure which is school based. (With respect to the adoption of a whole school model, districts were given the choice to forego the presumptive model and select a model from one of four other models including, Modern Red School House, Comer, Adaptive Learning and Accelerated Learning). In addition, cognizant of the strong influence of wider social forces on the achievement of students in the Abbott districts, the recommended reforms, also proposed a social services component that would attend to the students health and social support needs.

The perceived criticality of the proposed reform components is presented in Table 3.2. The table indicates that measures that sought to redress urban children’s educational deficits through the establishment of early childhood programs were perceived by districts to be the most important for improving elementary education. For example, the remedy which required the offering of full-day kindergarten program to all five-year olds beginning in the 1998-99 school year was considered by 84% of those responding to the survey on behalf of their districts to be the most important remedy in the court decision affecting elementary schooling (Refer to Table 3.2). Similarly, the requirement for pre-school experiences for all three and four year olds was highly endorsed in (80%) of the Districts. However, in-spite of this endorsement, several controversial issues have recently surfaced with respect to the implementation of quality pre-school programs in the Districts. These issues deal with the cost of funding the Districts’ pre-school plans, standards on the educational requirements of those employed by community-based centers, and guidelines on uniform programming.

The total estimated cost for implementing the preschool programs outlined in the individual District plans would necessitate an additional $250 million per year expenditure. This expenditure would provide services to approximately 44,000 three and four year olds. The plans developed by the districts proposed the utilization of a combination of sources. These sources included in-district programs, Head Start and other community- based programs. In developing their plans, Districts used the standards in the pre-school model presented by the Commissioner during the Abbott V hearings as well as the New Jersey Goodstarts standards (Ponessa, 1999). However, many of the plans were initially rejected by the State Department of Education and all districts were directed by the NJDOE to make the following uniform changes. First, to reduce their enrollment projections by 25%. Second, to use as a guideline for quality pre-school programming the Department of Human Services standards, not those developed by the State Department of Education. Third, to remove components of the plans that address social and health related issues. Fourth, to remove Head-Start as a provider, and fifth, to exclude from their plans transportation (Ponessa, 1999). Finally, districts were directed to use their ECPA (Early Childhood Program Aide) allocations which included an additional $37 million to fund the cost of their early childhood programs as well as some of the cost incurred by community-based providers.8 According to an article published by the New Jersey Star Ledger, at the start of the 1999-2000 school year only about half of the three and four year olds had enrolled for preschool classes and most were in centers based on state records with "histories of understaffing, improper disciplining of children, insufficient teaching materials and construction problems" (New Jersey Star Ledger, September 22, 1999:pp 23).

The other proposed elementary remedies that were deemed by the districts to be critical for improvement were class size reduction, ninety minutes of reading instruction and the flexibility to choose an alternative whole school reform model to the presumptive model of Success for All. Indeed, only 14% of the Districts felt that the adoption of Success for All was highly important in creating improvement in their elementary schools. Other measures in the rulings considered to be less important to elementary education improvement were family support teams, on-site health services, creation of parent laision positions and school-based management (See Table 3.2). One may infer given the patterns in the responses that the urban districts in their endorsement of the Abbott measures are more inclined to favor measures that impact directly on instruction and learning, than those which lack a direct bearing on these two areas. However, from the responses it is obvious that districts would prefer not to be locked into a set instructional model such as Success for All. The State in the new regulations issued for implementing Abbott for the 1999-2000 school year has been responsive to the Districts’ desire for flexibility and have allowed districts as part of their Whole School Reform efforts to choose instructional models that may be ‘home-grown’.

Secondary Remedies

The State Department of Education recommendations for secondary and middle schools to the court during the hearings for Abbott V focused on the implementation of supplemental programs involving the areas of technology, school to work and college-transition programs, and alternative secondary and middle school models. These recommendations were proffered to counter the deleterious impact of leaving untouched issues related to secondary and middle schooling. In the absence of any compelling empirically grounded body of research on effective whole school reform secondary school models, the implementation of supplemental programs was viewed as one way of ensuring that these pupils educational success would not be further hindered.

Table 3.3
Rank-Ordering of Abbott Secondary Remedies Importance For Secondary Schooling Improvement

 

Secondary Remedy

Percent of Districts Agreeing to its Importance

Alternative middle and secondary programs

62%

Class size reduction to 23 in grades 5-8, and 24 in high schools

48%

On-site health and social services, if needed

38%

Drop-out prevention coordinators

30%

School to work and college transition programs

25%

Respondents from the twenty-two Abbott Districts provided feedback on the importance of these remedies for improving secondary schooling. As can be seen in Table 3.3, overall, the measures for secondary schooling were considered to be much weaker in their potential to significantly impact on change when compared to the elementary measures.9 Of the remedies proposed, only alternative school programs were viewed by more than half of the districts as very important to the creation of improvement in secondary and middle schooling. Class size reduction was considered to be important by 48%, followed by on-site health (38%), dropout prevention coordinators (30%), and school- to work and college transition programs (25%).

Prior Reform Efforts in the Abbott Districts

As noted in our introductory comments to the Chapter, it is important to understand from the Districts’ perspective, the degree of compatibility which exists between Abbott’s remedial measures, particularly these measures in their regulatory form, and any prior reform activities occurring in the Districts. The assumption can be made that measures that are compatible with ongoing reform initiatives stand a better chance of being successfully implemented than those that are at odds. Table 3.4 presents some of the pertinent findings in this area. First, the Table reveals that many of the districts have been engaged in a plethora of reform activities. Some are in response to broader state reform initiatives such as standard based curricular and assessment reforms as well as other state initiatives derived from Abbott’s previous rulings such as the ECPA (Early Childhood Program Aide), while others presumably are based on local initiative. Second, the data indicates some districts had begun to address areas dealt with in Abbott V such as at-risk programming, technology, parent and community relationship, school based management, school restructuring among others.. Irrespective of the nature of the driving force been behind these initiatives, the data indicates that many of the Abbott districts were engaged in change efforts prior to the Abbott V decision.

Table 3.4
Types of Reforms Implemented in Districts Prior to Abbott IV and V

 

Reform Area

Percent of Districts Engaging in Reform Activity

At-risk programs

96%

Technology

96%

Professional Development

91%

Early Childhood

82%

Parental Involvement

82%

Community Relations

73%

School-based management

73%

Standards-based curriculum

68%

Facilities improvement

64%

Standard-based assessments

64%

School restructuring

59%

 

The degree to which the State was able to capitalize on districts’ ongoing reform activities is evident in Table 3.5. The information contained in the Table starkly reveals the disjuncture between the directives for implementing the reform agenda associated with Abbott and the standard based initiatives in curriculum and assessment. Almost a third of the districts that were engaged in standard-based changes indicated that there was very little compatibility between their reform efforts in this area and the states’ directives for implementing whole school reform. On the other hand, districts perceived that there was congruity between the state regulations and their reform efforts in the areas of early childhood education, parent and community relationship, and at-risk programs. However, consistency between the State and districts was perceived to be greatest in the areas of school restructuring (54%), technology (52%), professional development (42%), and facilities improvement (40%).

Table 3.5
Degree of Compatibility Between Guidelines for Implementation and Districts’ Prior Reform Activities

Prior Reform Area

Degree of Compatibility

 

none

very little

some

a great deal

At-risk Programs

-

15%

50%

35%

Technology

5%

10%

33%

52%

Professional Development

5%

5%

47%

42%

Early Childhood

-

22%

44%

33%

Parental Involvement

-

29%

35%

35%

Community Relationship

-

25%

38%

38%

School-Based Management

6%

-

59%

35%

Standard-based Curriculum

-

31%

44%

25%

Facilities Improvement

7%

13%

40%

40%

Standards Based Assessment

-

31%

44%

25%

School Restructuring

8%

-

39%

54%

Note: These percentages are based only on districts that had indicated they had engaged in prior reform activities in these areas.

Conclusion

Sustainable reform efforts involve the commitment and cooperation of all key stakeholders. The data in this Chapter indicates that there is a high level of support from the Abbott districts for the remedial measures that were prescribed by the Courts in the Abbott IV and V rulings. Some of these measures were viewed by the Districts as holding greater implication for change than others. Specifically, there is a high level of support for the measures that bear upon parity funding, early childhood and preschool education, curricular and instructional programming, with the exception of having a presumptive model, class size reduction and facilities improvement. In the areas of school restructuring and technology slightly more than a half of the responding districts noted that there was a great deal of compatibility between the state’s guidelines for implementing Abbott and their previous reform efforts in these areas. However, there are some findings which suggest the existence of potentially destabilizing factors. For one, the NJDOE and districts differ on the feasibility of reallocating existing district and school funds to support the reform. Further, in the area of early childhood education, sharp differences have surfaced on staff standards, what constitutes quality preschool education programs and what level of funding is needed to support such programs. More importantly, there seems to be some policy discontinuities between the standard based reform agenda embodied in CEIFA (Comprehensive Educational Improvement and Financial Act) and the directives for implementing reform which have emanated from the State. And finally, there seems to be a level of tension between the rights of the districts to develop quality programs based on the needs of their student populations and the role of the state department as a facilitator of the reform process.