Planning for New Fed-Mandated Every Student Succeeds Act Could Face Bumpy Ride

By David Cruz

The proof of the pudding of any federal initiative is in the implementation. And as New Jersey prepares for the Every Student Succeeds Act — the successor to No Child Left Behind — the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools heard testimony about what the process will be like and who’s going to have a say in that implementation.

“There’s a lot for us to learn and the goal of today’s hearing is to do just that, begin the conversation so that we all understand what the implications of this new act are,” said co-chair Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.

You could call ESSA No Child Left Behind light, in that it keeps most of NCLB intact — with a focus on English, language arts and math proficiency and graduation rates. But the biggest difference, according Charmaine Mercer of the Learning Policy Institute, is that it returns a lot of decision-making authority to the state.

“Similar to NCLB, states are required to have challenging content standards that are aligned with this academic assessment and they must apply to all public schools and public students in the state,” she explained. “Unlike NCLB, ESSA requires that the state standards be aligned with interest requirements for credit-bearing course work at state higher education institutions and with relevant career and technical education standards.”

Sounds like something everyone can agree on, but this is New Jersey and agreement on everything is constitutionally verboten. This policy comes from a Democratic administration but New Jersey’s Department of Education — which will be responsible for creating a state plan to comply with the federal guidelines — is controlled by a Republican, so you can expect that, especially in an election year, disagreements are bound to crop up.

“We are currently developing the plan right now and as I mentioned going back and forth with stakeholders as we develop different pieces and then we hope to publish the plan this winter and allow a minimum of 30 days for public reaction to the total plan, but we do hope to get that out earlier than that,” said Diana Pasculli, deputy chief of external affairs for the state Department of Education.

But Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan wanted to know if the planning group decides to ignore the public input, can they still submit it to the federal government for approval.

“I think that we have a pretty good system where folks in the field will hold us accountable,” responded Pasculli.

Also, noted the assemblyman, there’s going to be a new governor just as this plan gets sent to the feds.

“So, let’s say the new governor and the Department of Education and the support team that he or she adopts has a different view, can this be adopted on an annual basis?” asked Diegnan. “How long will the state of New Jersey be obligated to follow this plan?”

“We do re-submit every four years,” replied Pasculli, “so we’ll be obligated to follow our plan for four years.”

The fact is there are more questions than answers in this early stage of development. Will the PARCC tests be the standardized test? How much will test scores weigh on teacher evaluations? What about charter schools? Or so-called community schools? Will the plan favor one over the other? What resources are there for parents? All good questions with answers (theoretically) coming over the course of the next year.