The best decisions for our students’ education are made locally. Throughout my career in education, I’ve expressed this belief many times. Unfortunately, during that same career, I’ve seen local school boards’ authority to make such decisions diminish.

Let’s look at the record. In December 2012, I made a presentation to a group of aspiring superintendents at Seton Hall University on “The Impact of State and Federal Policy on the Role of the Superintendent.” It charted a series of legislative and regulatory developments dating back to 2004. They ranged from P.L. 2004, c.73, better known by its Senate moniker, “S-1701,” which substantially altered school district discretion over budgeting, local tax levies and financial planning, to the overly prescriptive 2008 Accountability Regulations.

Nearly all of these developments undermined school boards’ ability to make decisions for the benefit of children’s education.

A Welcome Change

This past week, New Jersey Commissioner of Education David Hespe took an important step toward “de-bureaucratization”—something we need more of—when he announced a streamlined process that will further relieve high-performing school districts from frequent state monitoring under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, or NJQSAC. The new process will reduce the necessity for full NJQSAC monitoring from every three years to every six.

As I stated to the news media, “Student achievement has to be at the heart of all educational policy. The new streamlined monitoring process…is consistent with that belief. It will substantially ease the administrative burden placed on districts that meet state monitoring standards, while allowing the state to focus its resources where assistance is needed.”

No one in public education should ever argue against measures of accountability. NJQSAC gauges school district effectiveness in five critical areas: instruction and program; fiscal management; governance; personnel, and operations. Nonetheless, while many local school boards have found value in the monitoring system, they’ve also noted that the frequency of the complex process could divert time, attention and resources away from the educational program.

The new streamlined process will apply to school districts that satisfy at least 80 percent of the indicators in each of the five NJQSAC areas. These districts can obtain waivers that will enable them to submit an annual Statement of Assurance documenting their continued high level of performance, rather than undergoing monitoring every three years. In addition, the new process dovetails with previous revisions that reduced the number of criteria and the amount of paperwork involved in state monitoring.

The latest change is another step toward enabling school boards to focus more on teaching and learning and less on bureaucracy. It’s greatly appreciated and, I hope, part of a trend.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at feinsodreflections@njsba.org.

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