When Gov. Chris Christie this week signed a bill creating a task force to study later start times for New Jersey’s public schools, he might as well have said, “Welcome to the club.”
The new commission will be at least the fifth education task force or review process launched by the governor, either through legislation or executive order, that still hasn’t completed its work – including one panel that is two years old.
The issues being addressed range from the arcane (special education) to the hotly controversial (state testing), from one with national implications (Common Core and state standards) to one with a very local bent (the transition to Newark local control).
In each case, state Education Commissioner David Hespe said they are all on track with their work, even if not exactly speedy in all cases. The first two are expected to be releasing reports soon and the latter two expected to go into the fall and even winter, he said.
The following are updates of each:
The Task Force on Improving Special Education for Public School Students was created in 2013 by law to delve into the funding and monitoring of special education, and to look into the best practices available to districts in contending with what many educators say is a delicate and dangerous balance.
Made up of 17 members, the group took a year to be appointed and now approaches a year of meetings. The task force appeared close to finishing its work this spring, but its report has yet to be released, with Hespe saying it’s going through final fact-checking and review.
The Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey was created in mid-2014 by executive order as part of a compromise over the escalating debate over the state’s new testing, known as PARCC.
Its charge was to review how students are assessed, and to examine ways to improve the testing system.Made up of nine members, including two teachers, the task force released an interim report in January and was slated to issue its final report by the end of July. That deadline missed, Hespe said the members continue to meet and are nearing a consensus on recommendations, none of which he was ready to share.
“We’re coming to a close, but not there yet,” said Hespe, who chairs the group. “The issue is the charge was so broad, but it’s close, it’s coming together.”
The New Jersey Standards Review Process was also part of major policy shift, in this case Christie’s reversal on New Jersey’s participation in the Common Core State Standards.
The task force was created to review the Common Core standards as they apply to New Jersey and redo them to address what Christie said were the most pressing gaps. (He didn’t much mention his previous support or his then-pending aspirations to run for the Republican presidential nomination.)
The state Department of Education has since created an intricate web of committees and subcommittees to look at the standards for math and language arts, and is expected to report back with recommendations by the end of the year.
State officials said last week that more than 200 educators and others have volunteered for the effort, and meetings will start in the next month.
This one may prove the slowest to complete its work, tasked with coming up with benchmarks for returning the district to local control after more than 20 years of state operation.
The task force’s creation was part of a compromise deal that included the replacement of controversial superintendent Cami Anderson. Christie did not put a timetable on the transition, but he asked the board to come up with a report sometime during the coming school year. Since the announcement in June, though, the nine-member board has met just once.