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Fine Print: NJ Revises Accountability Plan for Federal Approval

Seven years after Race to the Top fiasco, Christie administration goes through federal review of its latest accountability plan

Betsy DeVos
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

What it is: New Jersey State Plan, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Amended July 14, 2017

What it means: The revised plan submitted this week to U.S Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is part of the review process that every state is going through on their accountability plans to meet the new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. The process is painstaking — and potentially heartbreaking, as New Jersey learned seven years ago — and has involved pointed questions from the Trump administration. The eventual plan is critical to all schools; it lays out how the state will monitor students, schools, and districts.

A little history: Few in New Jersey education can forget the mess at the start of Gov. Chris Christie’s tenure when the state tried to win approval of federal Race to the Top funds back in 2010. New Jersey fell a miniscule margin shy of winning the initial grant that could have meant $400 million more to the state. Largely procedural and avoidable mistakes in the application led to Christie’s very public firing of his first education commissioner, Bret Schundler.

What’s different this time out? New Jersey ultimately did win federal approval, although for a fraction of the initial grant, and continued to live by the federal mandates under former President Barack Obama. But in the meantime, Obama and Congress agreed upon a new law — ESSA — that returned much of the power back to the states to set their own criteria for monitoring schools, a law that at least so far President Donald Trump and DeVos have continued to back.

New Jersey’s plan: The state’s plan is notable as much for its language as its intent, focusing more on supporting schools than intervening in them. It sets targets for districts in graduating students and addressing their needs, but makes them longer-term goals based more on progress than specific end-points.

New Jersey’s revised plan: In response to questions raised by the federal Department of Education, the state added several technical points to the application. One of the central issues raised by the federal review was for more specifics about educating students with limited English skills. Another asked how New Jersey would account for students who were formerly classified for special education.

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