Governor Chris Christie Outlines Education Reform Agenda Centered on Four Building Blocks for Success in New Jersey's Schools

Governor Christie and Commissioner Cerf Call Recommendations of Education Transformation Task Force Critical First Step to Modernize Education and Help Schools Focus on Results for Children

Trenton, NJ – Furthering his commitment to bold education reform, Governor Chris Christie today called the initial report of the Education Transformation Task Force a strong first step in the process to develop a new accountability system for New Jersey schools, and to reduce the regulatory burden in order to make it easier for schools and educators to focus their efforts on innovation and results for children. These recommendations, to be followed by a final report submitted by the Task Force on December 31, 2011, constitute a critical element of the Governor's focus on four Building Blocks for Success in New Jersey's Schools, including reforms to address performance and accountability, academics and standards, talent, and innovation in New Jersey's education system.

"This report confirms that we need to provide a new accountability system that works for our educators and students, and that sensibly moves us toward a system that values educational results over bureaucratic red tape," said Governor Christie. "Every aspect of our education system must be centered around ensuring that every one of our children has the opportunity to get an effective education that prepares them for a successful future. These recommended changes to our accountability system mark a first step toward additional education reforms that we will be pursuing to modernize the fundamentals of our education system and our schools."

The Task Force was commissioned by Governor Christie to take an unflinching and candid look at how well New Jersey's education system was meeting its primary goal of helping all students graduate from high school ready for college and the workforce. Its two basic tasks were to examine ways to eliminate burdensome regulations so that New Jersey's educators will be given the freedom they need to employ the best strategies in the classroom, and to review accountability systems, including the state's Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) and federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.

The report provided recommendations to fundamentally reform the accountability system in state education by moving to a single, streamlined system, focusing on what matters most - student learning - and eliminating deficiencies in the two current accountability systems of QSAC and NCLB for New Jersey schools. The changes, which would be sought through a federal waiver of NCLB and statutory changes, will replace the current accountability scheme in New Jersey with a system more meaningful in its measures and assessments and less administratively burdensome for districts. The initial report represents a first step towards this reform, with recommendations that outline key challenges with the existing system and guidance for moving forward with the development of a new system.

The report also includes 45 specific recommendations to reduce red tape in New Jersey's public education system, changes that will help schools to streamline their operations and focus every possible resource on critical priorities like student learning and performance, rather than compliance. The result will mean schools are less focused on regulatory compliance and more focused on efforts and innovations that help all of New Jersey's children receive the great education they deserve.

"State government should be in the business of supporting the great work being done in the vast majority of our state's schools, rather than just overseeing a web of rules and regulations that monopolize time, energy and resources from our educators," added Governor Christie. "The 45 regulations identified for elimination in this report are a down payment on this reform to our state's teachers and administrators and an indication of my Administration's commitment to getting out of the way of excellent schools and prioritizing classroom results over paperwork, while still ensuring that standards and accountability are high and that the safety and fiscal integrity of our education system are uncompromised."

"Alleviating onerous regulations will give school leaders the flexibility they need to drive innovation in the classroom and deliver quality educational outcomes for New Jersey's 1.4 million students," said Department of Education Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf. "To do that we must refine the partnership between accountability for results and the empowerment of educators to determine the right strategies to achieve those results."

Recommendations to Create a Next Generation Accountability System

Challenges with the Current Accountability System

New Jersey needs to develop a new accountability system that is transparent, fair and rigorous, and that sets high expectations for both our students and those charged with delivering the promise of a quality education to them. Our current system, consisting of two schemes that do not complement one another and that contain fundamental flaws, falls far short of this mark.

New Jersey schools currently operate under two unconnected and often contradictory accountability systems, the federal No Child Left Behind law and the state's Quality Single Accountability Continuum. While NCLB has played an important role in shining a light on student achievement and reinforcing that school district failure must have consequences, it suffers from basic flaws including a failure to credit districts for progress and a one-size-fits-all approach to failing schools.

Likewise, the state's QSAC has strayed from its original intention as a pathway to State takeover or restoration of local authority, and instead has become a system focused on "inputs" rather than measures of student achievement or "outputs." Importantly, it has failed fundamentally in driving district improvement where it is most needed.

Recommendations for a More Effective Accountability System

The Task Force has recommended the development of a single, unitary and streamlined accountability system consisting of the best and most practically important aspects of both QSAC and NCLB - those that focus on measures of student learning and achievement - and eliminates the deficiencies of each system. This new system would serve as the basis of a waiver request to the federal government from NCLB.

The new accountability system would focus on the following principles:

  • Focus on schools, more than districts, as the accountable unit
  • Emphasize "outcomes" (graduation rates, achievement gains) rather than "inputs"
  • Measure success by high standards directly correlated to college and career readiness
  • Recognize academic progress, not absolute achievement levels, as the proper benchmark for success
  • Consist of considerably less paperwork and fewer bureaucratic demands on districts, so that schools can focus on what matters most
  • Include a clearly articulated schedule of interventions for schools experiencing persistent educational failure

Recommendations for Regulatory Reform to Focus Schools on Performance Rather Than Compliance

The Overly Prescriptive and Burdensome Regulatory System in New Jersey Education

New Jersey's public schools are governed by an astoundingly dense and complex array of laws and regulations. Many of these are appropriate and worthwhile, setting standards for learning results, transparency, and health and safety requirements. But in many instances, the host of statutes, rules and regulations has gone too far.

Embedded within 1,200 pages of statutes and 1,000 pages of regulations is a host of rules that needlessly burden our educators. In some cases, such as the regulation specifying how districts must store student records, these policies are hard to understand and even harder to justify. These overly prescriptive rules and regulations inhibit the initiative of teachers, school leaders and administrators and stifle creativity in schools and central offices throughout the state.

While the review of these thousands of pages of regulation continues to take place, the Task Force has evaluated and made initial recommendations for the elimination of regulations that do not directly advance student learning, safety or fiscal integrity, and that have served to hinder schools' flexibility and resources to operate.

45 Initial Recommendations for Regulatory Changes or Elimination

The recommendations in this report range from the simplistic to the fundamental, including such basic changes as removing restrictions on what type of paper districts can print their report on and allowing districts to move toward electronic record keeping and storage, rather than hard student records.

Other recommended changes will help districts drive innovation rather than simply comply with regulations that were perhaps well-intentioned but lack a focus on outcomes for students. For example, current code requires each teacher to log 100 hours of approved professional development every 5 years. The Task Force recommends changes to help this regulation drive innovation in student learning by allowing districts to experiment with different approaches to professional development, such as Professional Learning Communities.

A full catalogue of the initial recommendations, including all 45 regulatory recommendations, can be found in the full report attached to this release.

These recommendations are preliminary and the Task Force will continue to solicit public input before the final report in issued at the end of December.

The Education Transformation Task Force is chaired by former New Jersey Commissioner of Education David C. Hespe (Belle Mead, Somerset) and its membership includes: Community Education Resource Network co-founder and Director Angel Cordero (Camden, Camden); Teaneck High School Principal Angela R. Davis (New Milford, Bergen); Kearny School Superintendent Frank Digesere (Toms River, Ocean); Pittsgrove Township Middle School teacher Linda DuBois (Pittsgrove, Salem); Elizabeth Board of Education Assistant Secretary Donald Edwards Goncalves (Elizabeth, Union); special education expert and ECLC of New Jersey Executive Director Bruce Litinger (Short Hills, Essex); and Seton Hall University Department of Education Leadership, Management and Policy Chair Michael J. Osnato, Ed.D. (Westwood, Bergen).

Following the release of this initial report of recommendations, the Task Force will submit a final report to the Governor by December 31, 2011. Upon the issuance of its final report, the Task Force will be dissolved.

The Education Transformation Task Force was created by Executive Order No. 58, issued on April 4, 2011.

Education Transformation Task Force Initial Report
Press Contact:
Michael Drewniak
Kevin Roberts

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