Christie Administration Releases Ed Transformation Task Force Final Report
The Christie administration released the final report of the Education Transformation Task Force September 5. Including 428 recommendations around regulatory changes as well as 46 recommended changes to statute, the 239-page report includes both the mundane and the controversial.
The report blames argues that many of the problems in running schools, are because bureaucracy stifles innovation by making teachers and administrators focus on minor details instead of student learning, and that a "culture of overregulation" makes some educators think of compliance as success.
The body, convened by the Governor in April of 2011, issued its initial report in September of last year (Education Transformation Taskforce Issues Initial Recommendations on Regulatory Relief for Schools, September 14, 2011). The group included educators across New Jersey, including a teacher, principal, school business official and superintendent, was established by the Governor in April 2011 to address two issues:
to review all statutes and regulations that affect public education;, and
to recommend a new accountability system that grants more autonomy to schools while maintaining strict accountability for student achievement, safety, and fiscal responsibility.
Charged with submitting its final recommendations to the Governor by December 31, 2011, the final report became public as a surprise addition to the September meeting of the State Board of Education.
Next Phase Begins
The report was accompanied by an aggressive timeline for introduction of proposed modifications to regulations over the next five months, culminating in a complete overhaul of the code by August 2013.
“We have proposed code, ready to go -- that’s how we can have this aggressive timeline,” said David Hespe, a former education commissioner who headed the task force and served as state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s chief of staff before stepping down last month.
Policy Recommendations & Regulatory Changes
The recommendations center around seven (7) "wheelhouses" as follows:
Ease reporting requirements to the State (reduce more than a dozen reporting requirements that are duplicative or unnecessary);
Reduce compliance activities (reduce burdensome or unnecessary compliance activities that distract from student learning);
Provide flexibility in operations (remove overly-bureaucratic regulations that limit the ability of districts to spend funds in ways aligned with student achievement, especially in the context of the 2 percent statutory levy cap);
Provide flexibility in programs (provide flexibility for districts to explore innovative and successful programs that best meet the needs of their students);
Provide flexibility in staffing (broaden the pool of high-quality staff and reduce the administrative burden on fully-certified teaching and administrative staff, especially in shortage areas);
Enable high-quality, impactful professional development (make professional development more meaningful for educators and administrators); and
Clarify confusing code requirements (reduce the amount of time local administrators spend navigating the regulatory code and interpreting relevant or duplicative rules);
One of the biggest policy shift under these parameters include seeking to eliminate the state’s decade-old 100-hour requirement for professional development, replacing it with more flexible rules that allow districts to develop their own plans. Other recommendations seismic recommendations include changes to the pre-school, facilities and class size requirements. The report even includes such recommendations as ending the required dues for the state’s School Boards Association, a move that would potentially gut its funding.
But, the report includes less controversial recommendations around the so called, “Fiscal Accountability, Efficiency, and Budgeting Procedures” that many will likely hail; and calls for "clarifying" the state’s new anti-bullying law which many stakeholders support. Other such recommendations include:
eliminating a requirement that schools keep a record of students’ names, addresses, phone numbers — and even grades — for 100 years after they graduate;
allowing districts to use electronic distribution of legal notices — including their own web sites — instead of requiring that notices be published in newspapers; and
eliminating rules governing the use of electronic pagers.
That said, the report also included a number of contentious legislative recommendations that simply advance the Governor’s education agenda, including passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act and ending seniority rights for educators. In a separate press conference yesterday, Christie said that eliminating seniority remained one of his top legislative priorities. “I’m not done with that issue yet,” he said.
State Board Reacts
The report urges the State Board of Education to adopt the changes it can by next August. But several state Board of Education members were quick to raise questions about a report they only received yesterday, pointing out that every regulation or statute has its constituency and reasoning.
“Each of these came about due to some incident,” said board member Dorothy Strickland. “There are all kinds of things there for a good reason.”
The report was a gargantuan effort, with teams of educators and lawyers poring over more than 3,000 pages of the state’s voluminous laws and administrative code over the past six months. Hespe and others conceded that while there will be reasons behind each rule or law, the larger problem is that the state has gone too far in over-regulating nearly every minute of the day.
“By putting it all together like this,” he said of the report, “It becomes evident to how distracting this has become for districts.”
And even among the skeptical, state board members said they want to start chipping away at the code sections that the board oversees, tentatively setting up a schedule that would see much of the recommendations reviewed, if not passed, over the next year.
“Let’s keep to a timeline and take votes on this,” said board member Andrew Mulvihill. “Otherwise, we’ll be talking about his for two years.”
Governor Weighs In
In a statement released simultaneously to the report, Christie called the report a "major step forward in empowering teachers and schools to better serve and educate New Jersey’s students."
NJPSA is currently reviewing the report in detail and will be responding to the proposed code changes as they move through the regulatory process.
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