Documents Detail Christie Administration's Plan for School Reform

The New Jersey Department of Education is moving forward with a reform plan for the state’s lowest performing schools by using private money from a California-based foundation.

The proposed plan calls for school closures, state operation of failing schools and elimination of union representation in schools that do not improve after sustained efforts to raise student performance.

Documents released this week by the Education Law Center in Newark detail what the Christie administration is planning to do with the schools that serve a majority of the state’s poorest school children. But the N.J. Department of Education cautions that the proposals are merely a work in progress that will all come before the legislature and an updated plan is a more accurate reflection of the direction it’s taking.

The documents were obtained through the state’s open public records law. They detail a grant proposal to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which promotes education reform through “entrepreneurial philanthropy” that favors charter schools, corporate-style management and increased competition.

“Schools will be freed from the district's collective bargaining agreement and the school's operator will have control over personnel decisions,” according to a draft document called School Turnaround Proposal. It says it’s pending legislation, and confidential.  

The proposal also calls for private contractors to take over failing schools if initial efforts are not successful.

“For staff members not retained by the operator, the state will pay, for one year, the cost of those employees' salaries and benefits,” the draft proposal read.

But the N.J. Department of Education contends it has never tried to hide its plans and that the documents released are just proposals.

“The Commissioner has been vocal about his goal of turning around the lowest-performing schools,” said Barbara Morgan, a spokeswoman for the department.  “It’s unfortunate that instead of the working with us on what would presumably be a shared goal, the ELC reverts to PR ploys about ‘secret plans’ and ‘privatization efforts.’”

Morgan says much of what was released by the ELC was in the state's No Child Left Behind and approved by the US Department of Education.

So far, the Broad Foundation has given the state $1.9 million. Most of the money is being spent on hiring mid-level managers and training staff for Regional Achievement Centers that are the cornerstone of the reform plan.

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