Governor Chris Christie Announces Education Reform Agenda to Turn Around Lowest Performing Schools in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waiver Application

  • Wednesday, November 16, 2011
  • Tags: Education

Previously Announced Christie Administration Education Reform Agenda Consistent with the Obama Administration’s National Education Reform Goals

Trenton, NJ – Governor Chris Christie and Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf today announced a bold and comprehensive reform agenda to address the biggest challenges facing public education in New Jersey, fully embodied in its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver application. The agenda, including the development of a new accountability system and a package of specific education reform legislation previously introduced and awaiting action by the state legislature, will identify and seek to turn around New Jersey’s consistently lowest-performing schools, recognize and reward improvement in all New Jersey schools, and provide the necessary tools to meet these goals in a manner consistent with President Obama’s national education reform agenda.

“There is no issue more important to the future of our state and country than putting the opportunity of a quality education within every child’s reach, no matter their zip code or economic circumstances. Our education reforms, contained in four specific bills sitting in the legislature today, are aggressive in meeting this challenge, bipartisan and in-line with the Obama Administration’s national agenda to raise standards, strengthen accountability systems, support effective teachers and focus more resources to the classroom,” said Governor Chris Christie. “These reforms provide a comprehensive approach that recognizes there is no single solution. For a new accountability system to be effective and successful in benefitting children, we must have all of the tools that are provided for in this legislation. A piecemeal, incremental approach will not turn around our failing schools or close the achievement gap.”

Outlined in the Fall of 2010 and subsequently introduced by July of this year, the four bills needed to achieve the education reform goals of Governor Christie and consistent with the Obama Administration's NCLB waiver requirements have been stalled in the Legislature for 133 days. This package of bills goes hand in hand with bipartisan education efforts to fix failing schools, broaden school choice for students in underperforming districts, identify and reward effective teachers, and support teachers who are not effective.

“New Jersey ranks among the top states in the nation in student achievement overall, but we cannot play in the margins with half-measures and expect to finally bring real, long-term change to the children in persistently failing districts who are not getting the education they deserve,” continued Governor Christie. “It’s time for the New Jersey Legislature to step up with my Administration, President Obama, Secretary Duncan and a national, bipartisan movement to act boldly and give every child the education they deserve.”

The bipartisan package of bills includes:

· School Children First Act (S-2881/A-4168; Senator Kyrillos/Assemblyman Webber): The bill would create a statewide educator evaluation system consistent with the goals of the Obama Administration, ties tenure to effectiveness, ends forced placements and Last-In-First-Out (LIFO) personnel policies by using both seniority and educator effectiveness in staffing decisions, and reforms compensation systems. These changes will allow New Jersey to identify and reward the most effective teachers in a meaningful and fair way, while also better supporting those comparative few teachers who are not effective.

  • Charter Reform Bill (A-4167; Assemblyman Webber): The bill provides critical updates to strengthen and improve New Jersey’s charter law. The bill increases the number of charter school authorizers, permits public schools to be converted to charter schools by local boards of education as well as the Department Of Education Commissioner, and increase charter autonomy while making them more accountable.
  • Opportunity Scholarship Act (S-1872/A-2810; Senators Lesniak and Kean/Assemblymen Fuentes and DeCroce): The bill would provide tax credits to entities contributing to scholarships for low-income students.
  • Urban Hope Act (S-3002/A-4264; Senator Norcross/Assemblyman Fuentes): The bill provides for the creation of as many as ten “transformation school projects” in five of the State’s worst performing districts.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced in September that he will consider proposals from states seeking to waive provisions of NCLB if they indicate a strong commitment to improving student performance, reducing the achievement gap, and turning around underperforming schools. A waiver would allow districts and states additional flexibility in providing support and interventions to struggling schools.

“NCLB remains an important piece of legislation because it put a renewed focus on student achievement and accountability in K-12 education and highlighted the needs of typically underperforming student populations. However, the law suffers from some significant flaws, including its failure to give credit for progress and its one-size-fits-all approach to labeling schools as failing,” said Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf. “Through our waiver application we have developed a new accountability system that allows for differentiated supports and interventions of the schools with the most pervasive and persistent achievement problems. The proposed legislation is crucial to enhance our ability to turn around our lowest performing schools and ensure that students in those schools have the options they deserve. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to school improvement which is why we must focus our resources and most significant interventions on those schools with a long standing history of low performance.”

In developing a new accountability system, the Department will focus its supports and interventions on the lowest performing schools in the state. The Department will create three tiers of schools - Priority Schools, Focus Schools and Reward Schools - which will be identified using both growth and absolute proficiency.

Led by the Department’s new Regional Achievement Centers, the Department will create customized interventions to turn around Priority and Focus Schools, based on their individual needs. Though the Department will focus its interventions on Priority and Focus Schools, the Department will support all schools in constantly improving in two ways. First, the Department will develop and publish new school performance reports for every school in New Jersey to replace the current bifurcated School Report Card and NCLB Report Card publications. Among other data points, the reports will include progress towards closing achievement gaps, comparison to “peer schools” with similar demographics, performance on state tests over time, and additional college and career readiness data points. These public reports will help districts focus on areas of low performances in their districts. Second, the Department will encourage all schools to take advantage of professional development and other support opportunities available for Priority and Focus Schools.

As part of the waiver application, the Christie Administration outlined a comprehensive reform strategy built on the three principles outlined in the waiver application and accomplished through the package of reform legislation sitting before the Legislature:

  1. Implementing college and career ready expectations for all students, including a detailed implementation plan of Common Core State Standards in K-12 English Language Arts and math; development of model curriculum in corresponding grades; and rollout of assessments tied to the Common Core State Standards through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Consortium.
  2. Developing a new, unitary accountability system to identify the state’s persistently lowest-performing schools and develop a differentiated plan to support and intervene in those schools, and to identify the state’s top performing schools and a plan to reward those schools for their achievement.
  3. Supporting effective instruction and leadership by developing and implementing statewide teacher and principal evaluation systems that take into account both student outcomes and effective practice.

In order to develop New Jersey’s waiver application, the Department held a number of meetings with educators, parents, and professional associations to solicit input on the application. The Department also collected more than 200 comments through its website over three total weeks both before developing its initial plans and then after posting a draft outline.

A copy of the State’s NCLB waiver application in full can be found here.

Press Contact:
Michael Drewniak
Kevin Roberts
609-777-2600

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