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Secondary Reform

Education Law Center established the Secondary Reform Project (SRP) in 2005, with the support of the Schumann Fund for New Jersey. The primary purpose of the project is to monitor and support effective middle and high school reform in New Jersey’s high need districts and to engage a broad group of stakeholders, policymakers and the public in efforts to reduce dropout rates, increase graduation and college participation rates and narrow gaps in educational achievement and opportunity.

NJ reports the highest high school graduation rate in the nation, but this success is not spread evenly across NJ communities. Only about half of NJ urban students make it through to graduation, and significant gaps in opportunity and achievement persist. ELC’s Secondary Reform Project has responded to this crisis in several ways. After the Abbott X court decision in 2003, ELC worked with the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to develop a Secondary Education Initiative (SEI) for over 200 urban middle and high schools. SEI was designed to provide all students in grades 6 through 12 with college preparatory curriculum, small personalized learning environments, and improved social and academic supports. Despite a promising beginning, support for SEI faded as the state has retreated from the Abbott mandates.

Current Issues

In recent years, NJDOE has begun to phase in tougher high school graduation requirements and harder exams. The Secondary Reform Project responded by advocating for reforms and resources needed to help all students meet the new requirements. Efforts included:

  • helping draft legislation to advance equity concerns (A3692/S2574) a bill to provide “opportunity to learn” guarantees tied to new state exams;
  • playing a major role in sustaining NJ’s alternative pathway to high school graduation: publishing the ELC policy brief, New Jersey’s Special Review Assessment: Loophole or Lifeline?, monitoring and publicizing problems with the new Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA), and working with the NJDOE and state legislators to keep multiple pathways to graduation open; and
  • participating in statewide public engagement campaigns to promote secondary reform.

Developing a new statewide secondary reform plan that builds on and learns from recent reform initiatives and delivers high academic standards and expanded opportunity to all students remains an urgent need and an ongoing priority. In low performing urban middle and high schools, this requires a challenging, collaborative process to transform school climate, professional practice, community/parent relations and student engagement. ELC’s Secondary Reform Project will continue to engage the full range of issues that must be addressed to provide educational excellence and opportunity to all NJ students. 

ELC Publications on Secondary Education

NJ Urban Youth Researchers Report on NJ Graduation Requirements (August 2009) 

Finding Common Ground on NJ Secondary Reform (March 2007)

New Jersey’s Special Review Assessment: Loophole or Lifeline (August 2007)

 For more, visit the Publications page. 

Additional Resources

Reports

Organizations

Research

Information on New Jersey high school graduation rates is available on the Secondary Data page of this website. 

Significant Cases

In recognition of the significant problems facing urban secondary schools, in June 2003, as part of the Abbott X decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the establishment of a work group to develop a program of whole school reform for middle and high schools.  After meeting over the course of several months, the work group developed a regulatory framework for secondary school reform, the "Abbott Secondary Education Regulations.”  The goals of the program were to increase student achievement in all content areas; to increase cohort graduation rates and student attendance rates; to reduce instructional days lost due to suspensions and expulsions; and to strengthen student commitment towards learning. However, support for the initiatives has declined in recent years.

ELC News Stories on Secondary Reform

For a complete list of stories, visit the Secondary Reform section of the News Archives page.