GEOFF MULVIHILL,Associated Press
Gov. Chris Christie's task force on education said Wednesday that the state should implement the governor's major education recommendations, as well as get rid of regulatory provisions in an effort to give schools and their teachers more leeway for spending their resources and organizing their classrooms.
The recommendations range from big ideas — using public money to send some students to private schools — to small ones — ending the mandate that school districts employ one janitor for every 17,500 feet of building space.
In its final report, the Education Transformation Task Force convened by Christie a year ago called for changing the law to allow schools to lay off more experienced teachers if less experienced ones get better marks on evaluations and to put in place new standards for how schools under state control can become independent again.
The report echoes the Republican Christie's philosophy for public schools: Increasing accountability for what and how well students learn while decreasing specific, standard requirements. The exception is for the most state's lowest-performing schools, where Christie's administration is attempting more intensive interventions.
His approach is the state government's latest way to deal with a deep, longstanding problem for New Jersey's schools. In a state where test scores, on average, are among the best in the nation, students in the state's low-income cities often fall well short.
"We must concede that the world deals tragically bad hands to many children — burdening them with poverty, challenging home and community environments, and more — and that overcoming those challenges is extraordinarily difficult," the report says. "At the same time, progress depends on our belief that talented educators and effective schools can make a profoundly significant difference in helping children achieve despite the challenges imposed by circumstances beyond their control."
The report blames overregulation for many of the problems in running schools, finding that 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.
"This report makes some common sense suggestions to move our schools from organizations built to comply to ones built to educate," state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said in a statement.
In all, the task force called for 428 changes to state regulations and 46 to laws. The regulatory changes can be made by the state administration, but the law ones would require legislative action.
If the changes were enacted, schools would no longer be told what kind of printer paper to use and they would be free to form voluntary single-sex classrooms, among other changes.
The Education Law Center, which has sued the state repeatedly to get more funding for low-income districts, criticized some of the recommendations on Wednesday. The center says it would be a step backward to have the state stop reviewing programs for students who are not native English-language speakers, to eliminate class size limits in high-poverty districts and to stop requiring school districts to submit plans for dealing with health and safety problems in their facilities.
Earlier this year, the Legislature adopted a law — signed by Christie — that makes tenure harder for teachers to get and easier for them to lose. That major change had the support of most of the state's education interest groups, including the two largest teachers unions.
But the groups could not agree on one of Christie's next priorities for school policy: Using teacher quality evaluations as a factor in determining which teachers lose their jobs in case of layoffs.
Christie said at a news conference Wednesday that he would continue pressing for his reforms.
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.