David Hespe Named Education Commissioner in New Jersey

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In New Jersey, acting Education Commissioner David Hespe took part in his confirmation hearing this week and received unanimous support from the Senate judiciary committee.

Lasting a little less than two hours, Hespe was asked questions, but spent more time listening to senators talk about their own opinions on education, writes Adam Clark of NJ Advance Media. Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) called the job of education commissioner one of the most important in New Jersey, even putting the responsibility involved above the governor’s job.

Hespe used the time to discuss some of the most controversial topics on the education front, including Common Core, the role of the Department of Education in state-controlled school districts, and the growth of charter schools.

There is support for the Common Core statewide, but Hespe says the state will continued to assess the standards. The DOE will expect accountability from superintendents of state-controlled districts, but, Hespe says, will not micromanage. Questions were asked concerning the New Jersey superintendent salary cap. The policy will expire in 2016, and Hespe says it will be reviewed and its effects studied, particularly the perceived “brain drain” of educational leaders leaving for other states. Charter schools will continue to be promoted in areas where the schools will improve education, but the schools that do not perform will be closed.

Hespe’s credentials include: serving as state education commissioner under former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman from 1999 to 2001; education department’s chief of staff under former commissioner Chris Cerf during Christie’s first term; President and Chief Executive Officer of Burlington County College; and vice president of Liberty Science Center working on STEM program development. Three people testified in opposition to Hespe because of his support of the Common Core.

Hespe has served, upon being appointed by Gov. Chris Christie, for the last nine months, writes Chase Brush, reporting for Politicker NJ. He was praised by most members of the committee as “professional” and knowledgeable, both of which will be important characteristics needed to curb the low end school performance where state directed programs meant to reorganize school districts and improve the quality of education, have, instead, led to controversy between residents and state and city officials.

“It is so inherently clear at the mismanagement in certain districts,” said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), “that I have to ask — when is the madness going to stop?”

During the hearing, Hespe defended his support of charter schools, saying they are able to provide additional opportunities in struggling districts, according to Andrew Seidman reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He added that the state is considering increasing the length of the school day or year, but that option, at this point, is still only a possibility. When conservatives brought up the Common Core, the waivers and grants that are provided to states that adopted the standards, and the tying of the test results to teacher evaluations, they called the standards a “federal takeover of education.”

“It’s quite obvious that all around the country, many in the educational community are having second thoughts about their original support of Common Core,” said Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R., Bergen).

Hespe explained that the standards were just one piece in the puzzle of a child’s education, however the test could become a requirement for graduation as early as 2019.