Task Force: 500 Things Need to Change in New Jersey Schools

Last year New Jersey Governor Chris Christie put together a task force to help him in his attempt to streamline the operation of the state's public school system. This week the task force has released its final report, which includes nearly 500 recommendations on how the schools can be improved.

The report, which weighed in at over 230 pages, includes suggestions such as reducing the janitorial staff at some schools and allowing districts to experiment with same-sex education classrooms. The report is billed as an attempt to relieve schools of some regulatory burdens in order to allow them more flexibility to experiment with ways to improve student achievement.

Christie said that the surest way to improve student achievement is to allow teachers and administrators room to be creative while also holding them accountable for the results of their experimentation. He praised the report's findings for outlining ways for schools to give their staff this flexibility.

The report includes recommendations big and small.

It calls for changes in everything from training for school nurses to the type of paper districts can use for community newsletters. It recommends ending the mandate that districts employ one janitor for every 17,500 feet of building space, allowing districts to offer single-sex classrooms parents could select for their children and eliminating rules governing the use of electronic pagers.

David Hespe, the Department of Education Chief of Staff who headed up the task force, said he was surprised to find pager-related regulations on the book, considering that the gadget hasn't been in wide use anywhere in nearly two decades.

Not all the suggestions dealt with issues as minor as outdated personal communication devices. The task force also looked at ways to provide assistance to failing schools in order to get them back on track, and how the state might find ways to give local school boards control over districts that have been under the auspices of the state due to poor performance.

The report is more than 9 months overdue, with the original deadline for publication being set in January of this year. Hespe explained the delay by pointing out the original schedule didn't allow for the fact that the 8 members would have to consider nearly 500 regulatory changes.

Along with 428 changes that could be made by the state Board of Education, the task force recommended 46 more sweeping, statutory changes requiring legislative action. Those included passing the Opportunity Scholarship Act to give poor students vouchers to attend private schools and eliminating the "last-in, first-out," seniority rule that affect teacher layoffs. Doing away with "last in, first out" was originally included as part of the state's new tenure bill but scrapped as part of a final compromise.

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