Trenton, NJ – Governor Chris Christie praised the final report of the Education Transformation Task Force today as a major step forward in empowering teachers and schools to better serve and educate New Jersey's students. The report recommends 428 regulatory and 46 statutory changes to give teachers, principals and superintendents the autonomy they need to help all students learn and to create a culture that focuses on student outcomes rather than compliance with regulations. In addition, the Task Force report addresses additional steps to strengthen the state's new school accountability system developed by the Department of Education earlier this year in order to hold all educators accountable for results. Taken together, these changes would create greater freedoms for successful schools and educators to craft their own path for success while being more prescriptive when schools persistently fail. Governor Christie has charged Commissioner Chris Cerf with reviewing the recommendations and pursuing regulatory changes through the State Board of Education this year where appropriate.
"This report creates a pathway to allow teachers to do what they do best – teach. I have long believed that we cannot regulate our way to better outcomes, and that the way to improve our schools is to give our educators the freedom they need to innovate and be successful and then hold them accountable for results," said Governor Christie. "When schools don't succeed, we have an obligation to be impatient and to turn around or close failing schools. This report is an important step in the right direction to find the appropriate balance between empowerment and accountability."
The Task Force report identified two overarching problems with the culture of overregulation that currently exists for New Jersey schools. First, a number of bureaucratic regulations stifle innovation at the local level and redirect the focus of administrators and educators away from their primary responsibility - student learning. Second, a culture of overregulation leads districts to equate regulatory compliance with success, rather than with what really matters – increasing student achievement.
"Time is the most valuable resource that our educators and administrators have. While every regulation is based on good intentions, in the aggregate they take too much time away from what we care most about – teaching and learning," said Commissioner Cerf. "This report makes some common sense suggestions to move our schools from organizations built to 'comply' to ones built to 'educate.'"
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 career. Its two basic tasks were to examine ways to eliminate burdensome laws so that New Jersey's educators have the freedom they need to employ the best strategies in the classroom, and to review statewide accountability systems, including the state's Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) and federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.
On September 12, 2011, the Task Force submitted an initial report presenting the outline of a new school accountability system for New Jersey and proposed 45 initial recommendations to reduce the regulatory burden on schools. The Department of Education used the Task Force's accountability recommendations to form the basis of its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver application, which was granted by the US Department of Education in February. (http://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/552012/approved/20120209b.html)
In fulfilling its mission, the Task Force held public meetings and focus groups to solicit input from hundreds of educators, administrators and other stakeholders, and today presented a final report containing three sets of recommendations to the Governor:
1. Proposed changes to the regulatory code
The Task Force reviewed over 3,000 pages of regulations and statutes governing New Jersey's schools to propose changes that will ease the regulatory burden on educators, administrators, schools and districts. These recommendations fall into two categories.
First, the Task Force addressed overly bureaucratic regulations that distract educators from what matters most – student learning, fiscal integrity, and student health and safety. These changes will:
Second, the Task Force addressed regulations that stifle educator innovation and autonomy. These changes will:
2. Proposed changes to statutes
The Task Force recommended 46 changes to statute that would, among other things, help districts focus on fiscal restraint and student learning. These proposals, which would require legislative approval, include:
3. Considerations to improve accountability for results
Central to the final Task Force report is the connection between empowerment and accountability – that the state should give additional flexibility to educators to be successful but should set a high bar for accountability and develop prescriptive interventions when schools persistently fail.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education announced the list of the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state (Priority Schools) that will receive intensive state intervention in the fall as part of its new school accountability system.
To strengthen this accountability system, the Task Force recommends the Department consider three areas to strengthen accountability:
Governor Christie has charged Commissioner Chris Cerf with reviewing and considering these recommendations on behalf of the Governor and the Department of Education. Where appropriate, the Commissioner will pursue regulatory changes through the State Board of Education, which will allow for additional input from stakeholders and the education community. Similarly, the Governor looks forward to working with the Legislature to pursue legislative reform where appropriate.
The Education Transformation Task Force was chaired by Department of Education Chief of Staff David C. Hespe (Belle Mead, Somerset) and its membership includes: Community Education Resource Network co-founder and Director Angel Cordero (Camden, Camden); Thomas Jefferson Middle School (Teaneck) Principal Angela R. Davis (New Milford, Bergen); retired 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).
A copy of the Task Force report can be found here.