D.O.E. Bait and Switch

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The Education Law Center has been busy. After apparently going AWOL after the Judge Peter Doyne ruled last month that the new State Funding Reform Act was constitutional, the ELC has emerged with guns blazing. First was the report that detailed the cuts in school aid from districts with large amounts of impoverished students in spite of the the fact that SFRA guaranteed millions of more dollars. (See post below.) And Wednesday Stan Karp, Director of the ELC’s Secondary Reform Project, testified before the State Board of Education on the D.O.E.’s “ill-advised retreat” from its Secondary Education Initiative (SEI) — the years-in-the-making architecture designed to raise high school achievement for high school students and whittle away at the achievement gap. Says Karp,

Yet, over the past year, as the Department rolled out its high profile campaign for “secondary transformation,” support for SEI has virtually disappeared. Last June, the SFRA regulations watered down SEI requirements. SEI’s well-attended network meetings were abruptly discontinued. The consultant contracts to provide technical assistance to districts were allowed to expire. Department personnel providing implementation support for SEI were released or reassigned. The district pilots designed to test and modify the reforms were never conducted. A research and evaluation plan required by regulation was never developed. The SEI Advisory Committee was disbanded, while a new Secondary Advisory committee required by the SFRA regulations was never convened.

Followers of the D.O.E. will detect a familiar pattern: a kind of “bait and switch” technique that promises reform or improvement and then mysteriously disappears.

We’re thinking about starting a catalogue to keep the D.O.E.’s strange subterfuge straight:

1) N.J. Steps: High School Redesign:
Algebra II is a requirement. On second thought, never mind.
All high schools will require a course in finance. Well, maybe we’ll try a pilot program with 6 schools.
All high schools will require a full year of lab chemistry. Hmm. Well, maybe something chemistry-like.
“Personalized learning plans” will be required for all high school students to promote differentiation of instruction. Oops — no funding. And we really meant just 15 high schools.

2) The D.O.E. will mandate free preschools for all poor three and four year olds.
Just kidding! Maybe for some poor three and four year olds. And there’s no funding promised for next year.

3) The D.O.E. will consolidate all non-kindergarten through 12th grade school districts.
Well, maybe most of the ones without actual school buildings. And we really didn’t mean consolidation; we were really talking about just sharing services, already widely implemented among N.J.’s 616 school districts.

4)No school districts will lose state aid. In fact, every one will get an increase.
Except for the ones that get decreases, which will be everyone because the D.O.E. is stiffing all districts on their Spring aid payment. Also, some districts that receive “extraordinary aid” for multiply-disabled students will see a zero in that column.

We are accepting contributions for our catalogue.

Now, it’s not clear that the D.O.E.’s intent is to scam the public into buying into a plan or a budget that it never intended to deliver. That is an unlikely scenario, with all due apologies to Stan Karp. What is more likely, and not necessarily any better, is that the D.O.E has lost too much credibility to successfully manage a well-intentioned reform of a broken system.

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