Agenda: State Board of Education

Online charters, school choice, achievement gap, and foundation money make for a full agenda

Date: Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Time: 10 a.m.

Place: NJ Department of Education, 1st floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton.

What they are doing: It’s a busy agenda for the State Board this month, from broad policy discussions around the achievement gap and early literacy to key personnel decisions and public hearings on new regulations for charter schools and inter-district school choice. The board will also consider two resolutions to accept money from outside private foundations.

The board’s power: The state board has seen its power and influence wane over the past two decades, its meeting becoming anti-climactic as it largely went along with the administration at the time. Of late, it has been finding its voice, as evidenced by it taking up big policy issues on its own, as well as handling the usual code and regulations. But at the same time, Gov. Chris Christie has flexed his muscle in his appointments to the board, with now six of the 13 members appointed by the governor. On the agenda today will be nominations to the next board officers, potentially a test for current president, Arcelio Aponte.

The board’s initiatives: Under Aponte’s leadership, the board has launched initiatives to give the board more say in policy, the most notable a task force looking at the whys and wherefores of the state’s achievement gap between students of different incomes and races. The task force has been meeting, and will give an update today. Also up for discussion will be issues of early childhood literacy, led by board member Dorothy Strickland, a nationally noted professor in literacy from Rutgers.

The administration’s initiatives: The agenda is full of the routine and not so routine changes to administrative code and regulations. Most of the review process is pretty dry, but already drawing a lot of attention is the Christie administration’s push for new charter school regulations that would bring in some significant new rules for the alternative schools. Included are provisions allowing online charter schools and new powers for the state in reviewing and potentially closing the schools. Critics have contended the administration is overstepping its bounds and, more importantly, existing state law. A public hearing on the new regulations is expected to draw plenty of comment on both sides.

Other initiatives: Discussion and a public hearing will also be held on the administration’s proposed regulations for its inter-district choice program, which allows students to move to public schools outside their own. That program has been less controversial, as have been its regulations. The board will also get a presentation on the administration’s strategies for improving the state’s lowest performing schools, including the ongoing development of model curriculum and the launch of Regional Achievement Centers across the state to serve as support for the schools.

New money: The board is expected to vote on two unusual resolutions that allow the state to accept more than $600,000 in grants from two high-profile organizations: StartUp:Education, the education reform foundation created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; and the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation, another pro-reform group instrumental in school and state leadership, including in New Jersey.

New people: The administration also plans to fill two key positions, including the last of acting commissioner Chris Cerf’s four key assistant commissioner posts, that for innovation. The board will also hear a nomination for a new director of teacher evaluation in charge of running the state’s ongoing evaluation pilot and its ultimate implementation.

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