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ELC CALLS ON SECRETARY DUNCAN TO REQUIRE NJ TO INTERVENE IN NEWARK PRIORITY AND FOCUS SCHOOLS

April 15, 2015

Education Law Center is calling on U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan to complete his investigation of the N.J. Department of Education’s (NJDOE) failure to intervene in underperforming Newark schools as required by the State’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver and school turnaround and improvement regulations. 

In October 2014, ELC wrote to Secretary Duncan to alert the U.S. Department of Education (USED) about the State’s noncompliance with mandated interventions, led by Regional Achievement Centers (RACs), in Newark schools placed in “priority” and “focus” status by NJDOE.

Following ELC’s complaint, Commissioner of Education David Hespe sent a letter to USED asserting that NJ has complied with the terms of the ESEA waiver regarding priority and focus schools in Newark. The Commissioner’s letter, however, confirms that the State has not implemented the interventions in the Newark Public Schools (NPS) required by the waiver and the State’s school turnaround regulations.

ELC, in a response to the Commissioner’s letter, is now asking for federal officials to step in and address New Jersey’s failure to intervene and work directly with these schools to ensure improved student outcomes.

The Commissioner’s statement to USED made clear that, unlike priority and focus schools in all other districts in NJ, the regionally-designated RAC has not been assigned to work with priority and focus schools in Newark. Newark’s priority and focus schools did not have quality school reviews (QSRs) completed by the designated RAC, as mandated by State regulation; rather, QSRs were submitted to the State after completion of an NPS-developed process. 

The Commissioner also acknowledged that all priority and focus schools must complete yearly school improvement plans (SIPs), but he admitted that Newark’s priority and focus schools used an “alternate planning template” created by NPS State Superintendent Cami Anderson. To the extent that something akin to the required RAC-led QSRs and SIPs were, at some point, prepared for the NPS priority and focus schools, they were done at the direction of Superintendent Anderson – not the Essex/Hudson RAC – and clearly did not conform to the requirements in the waiver and school turnaround regulations.

The Commissioner also revealed that the State has improperly allowed Superintendent Anderson to assume full responsibility for working with NPS priority and focus schools. The Commissioner stated that, on an unspecified date, the NJDOE decided to permit Superintendent Anderson, and not the RAC, to take control of improvement efforts in the schools. As ELC makes clear to USED, “delegation of these critical tasks and responsibilities to Superintendent Anderson is entirely improper, unauthorized, and contrary to the express conditions and representations made by New Jersey to secure approval of the Waiver and in USED follow-up monitoring.” 

Finally, the Commissioner gave no indication that the designated RAC is providing required supports or progress monitoring to Newark’s priority and focus schools. There is no basis in the ESEA waiver or the school turnaround regulations for the wholesale delegation of the intervention and improvement efforts for each of the NPS priority and focus schools to Superintendent Anderson, and no other district – State-operated or otherwise – has been permitted to maintain control over the school turnaround and improvement process.

“Students in Newark priority and focus schools have been denied the improvements New Jersey promised Secretary Duncan when it obtained the ESEA waiver,” said ELC attorney Jessica Levin. 

ELC has asked USED to restart the minimum intervention periods for NPS priority and focus schools, issue a clear directive that delegation of intervention efforts to Superintendent Anderson is inconsistent with the ESEA waiver and State regulations, and impose any other appropriate sanctions.

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24