Newark Advisory Board Votes for Quick State Turnaround on Accountability Results

The Newark School Advisory Board, reports the Star-Ledger,  has a reasonable request: the state Department of Education should turn around district accountability evaluations, at least in state-controlled schools, within 90 days, not the typical thirteen months.

I’m not sure how other state departments of education work, but her in New Jersey each of our 600 school districts is “QSACed” every three years, filling out voluminous paperwork that comprises the Quality Single Accountability Continuum and measures achievement in five areas: Instruction and Program, Operations, Personnel, Governance, and Fiscal Management. A district that receives at least 80 percentage points in each category qualifies as a “high performing district.” One that doesn’t is subject to corrective action plans.

Newark’s 20 years of state control is premised on its continuing inability to pass QSAC. (The district passed in 2011 but scores fell back down the following year.)

According to Newark Public Schools’ most recent QSAC report, the district passed Fiscal Management and Operations. It failed Instruction and Programs (58%), Governance (72%), and Personnel (60%).  And here’s a letter to Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf, dated July 29th, 2015 from Education Commissioner David Hespe, instructing Cerf “to develop a district improvement plan (DIP) to address indicators that have not met QSAC standards.”

Why the Advisory Board’s rush? It’s going to be awfully hard for the state to justify a return to full local control while the district continues to flounder in Personnel and Governance. The area of “Instruction and Program” is a little more dicey as it’s dependent on student proficiency on state tests and poor urban districts – indeed, some working class and middle-class suburban districts – struggle to reach that 80% bar.

Ninety days for state turnaround on QSAC submissions is a stretch. Thirteen months, for any district let alone one desperate for local control, is unacceptably long.  Legislators and educators have proposed ways to streamline the QSAC process, for example, five or seven year gaps between full-press accountability exercises for high-performing districts, not just three. Solutions are out there and the time to act is now.

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