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New Jersey’s Education Department Aims To Complete Governor Christie’s Goal

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s Education Department received a makeover on Wednesday aimed at making it less of a regulatory agency while putting in place Gov. Chris Christie’s goal of successfully teaching and graduating children from all walks of life.

The state Board of Education unanimously approved the reorganization requested by Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, and approved appointments to several key jobs in the new structure.

Cerf said the department as it was previously organized was geared too much toward ensuring school districts comply with rules and not enough to the most important job of the department, which he defined as “to graduate all of New Jersey’s children, regardless of their birth circumstances, their zip code, their level of need, to graduate them college- and career-ready.”

Under the new structure, the department has four main divisions: one that identifies and measures goals; another to recruit, develop and retain teachers and administrators; one to ensure the state’s standardized tests are meaningful; and a fourth that oversees charter schools and other programs. That division will be led by an “innovation officer.”

Cerf said a deputy commissioner will be in charge of making sure the work of the new divisions reaches school district officials.

“None of this matters if it doesn’t affect what happens within schools,” he said.

Cerf also said one of the key figures in the new arrangement will be David Hespe. Hespe was education commissioner from 1999 to 2001 and is now Cerf’s chief of staff.

Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, an umbrella group of most of the state’s teachers unions, said it’s the acting commissioner’s prerogative to shuffle the organization. That doesn’t bother the group, he said, so much as the administration’s education proposals.

“It’s not what the department heads are called. It’s what the end product is that comes out,” he said.

Christie has become a national figure in education, leading a state that ranks among the top in standardized test scores, graduation rates and other measures. But low-income urban districts still fall far short despite huge subsidies from the state.

Christie has been pushing for changes supported by many education advocates both Democratic and Republican, but opposed in many instances by the New Jersey Education Association. The governor favors using scholarships funded by corporate contributions in exchange for tax breaks that would allow students in some cities to attend private schools. He wants the state to expand the number of publicly funded charter schools, and find ways to more easily identify good teachers and fire low-performing ones.

Most of the measures would need approval from the state’s Democrat-controlled Legislature, which has been reluctant to bring many of them to votes.
The state board Wednesday approved a measure that would not need legislative approval. It would allow struggling districts to hire superintendents without backgrounds in education. School districts in other states have adopted this practice with the idea of finding a strong organizer with business experience. Other school officials would be in charge of the academic program.

The board heard from an official with the National Council on Teacher Quality, which has found teacher quality standards lacking in New Jersey and many other states.

Cerf said some of the group’s concerns can be addressed without the Legislature’s involvement.

“It is absolutely our intention as a commission to see what we can do at the regulatory level without the need for legislation,” he said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)

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  • Veritas

    The scores in NJ as well the rest of the United States, to be honest, are in large part a reflection of the state of the American family. If any of the readers is an observer of the condition of both the family and of children these days it should not come as a great surprise that the test scores are not impressive, especially not where the families have a sizable percentage of what is termed the ‘working poor’. Look at American culture and ask yourself if it significantly impedes kids from taking school seriously; if it impedes parents from truly being meaningfully involved and consistently involved in their children’s academics. Our nation’s children need help indeed, but to be honest the schools were never met to fill the all important part of the family, yet so many in the so called task of education reform act as though the teachers are the culprits in the low test scores. If a problem is going to truly be fixed or alleviated at least an honest judgment must happen as to all the factors affecting the situation.
    The historic Coleman report done in the 60’s clearly points out that the most important factors in a child’s academic success is 2/3 from the parent and child and 1/3 from the teacher. This report was validated again. Actually, should this come as a surprise to us?
    Let’s bring jobs back into America by having something like a 60/40 import law that says anything sold in the US must at least be 40% made in the US. Our leaders both republican and democrat have been a major factor in following a “global” economic world view that now has only become painfully clear to have wiped out literally millions of honest to goodness jobs, the kind you can actually begin to support a family. As our economy has crashed and not been able to get up because we have been gutted from our manufacturing jobs we are desperate to get strong again. We look around and say if only our kids were better educated then we would do better economically. We then in our frustration and in anger blame the teachers for our problems forgetting how we really got here. If our kids were all able to be ‘A’ students would we even have a fraction of the jobs, or would they be going to developing nations like India, China, and the host from Asia where the owners of companies pay their workers so little?
    Educational results will improve if and when American families improve on how they function; our culture has a moral swing upward; and we use our sovereignty to bring back American jobs to properly provide a lasting support for our people. Currently we are getting the short end of the stick and even getting hit with it when we allow our leaders to sell us out “globally”. I long to see a middle class part emerge that would among other things squarely address this issue of economics and education. The educational success of our children is many factored and any reform effort must be willing and able to comprehend that, as well as involve all parties rather than single out one player (teachers) and scapegoat them.

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