NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer today testified on the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJ QSAC) process. Steinhauer said, “What is ironic about the process in state-run districts is that the state runs the districts, and they are holding the students and the community accountable for their failures.” Steinhauer called on legislators to reform the process so that “instead of simply paying lip service to building capacity in these communities, its’ time to really engage the parents, community, and educators and develop a road map back with strict timetables for them to regain control over their schools.”
Here is the full text of Steinhauer’s testimony:
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to testify today about New Jersey’s Quality Single Accountability Continuum process and the impact that it has had and is having on students and school employees in affected districts.
NJEA has always advocated for education policies and procedures that take into account the voices of educators and the residents of the communities they serve. After all, they are on the front lines of education. They see what works, what doesn’t, and how we can change things to make them work for students.
In the current climate, with its increased emphasis on accountability, it is troubling that QSAC is a self-monitoring system that does not have a requirement for meaningful, sustained dialogue with teachers and other educators in the district.
Under QSAC, school districts are evaluated and scored in five areas: effectiveness (specifically instruction and program), personnel, fiscal management, operations and governance.
The instruction and program portion of the evaluation has unfortunately become nothing more than an over-reliance on tests and assessments. In our state takeover districts, teachers often have to stop teaching the curriculum in a way that excites and inspires students to learn more and are instead directed to prepare kids to take a state test.
Even the measures to ensure the Core Curriculum Content Standards are being followed are based on tests.
Consider the impact this has on our common goal of creating lifelong learners. Real learning comes from the thrill of exploring, analyzing, discovering, and creating. No test in the world, no matter how technologically advanced, could inspire this type of learning in our students.
The District Performance Review or DPR, requires that only one teacher sign their name to it. In a district like Jersey City or Newark with 50-75 buildings, requiring only one teacher to give input is grossly insufficient.
And the QSAC monitoring teams do not come in on a regular basis and in some cases not for several years.
In the area of personnel one need only look at our Paterson School District as an example. The state has not been able to negotiate a successor agreement to the school employees’ contract for more than four years. This has caused significant financial and emotional hardship for those school employees. It has led to staff turnover, low morale, and a sense that their district – and ultimately their students – are not a priority for the state.
The fiscal management evaluation relies on such things as health and safety of the schools. However, the facilities in these state-controlled districts are not only woefully inadequate, but downright shameful.
NJEA worked with Healthy Schools Now, a coalition of parents, educators, students, and public school advocates, to shed light on the shocking conditions in some of our schools. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the pictures from Camden, Newark, and other districts: water-damaged hallways, exposed pipes, and decrepit classrooms.
What kind of a message does that send to our students, their parents, and our communities?
In the area of governance, the state needs to put more teeth into the state audits of the district and recommendations of the auditor. Additionally, the state MUST build local capacity. In fact, this should be their number one priority.
What is ironic about this whole process in state run districts is that the state runs the districts, and they are holding the students and the community accountable for their failures.
Even when a district meets the QSAC benchmarks in all five categories, the state is reluctant to return the district to local control. One has to wonder why.
Twenty-five years is too long for these districts to be controlled by the state. I’m sure it was never the intention that this situation would continue this long. It is not what these communities want and I’m confident it’s not really what the state wants.
There has to be a better way – and there is.
Instead of simply paying lip service to building capacity in these communities, it’s time to really engage the parents, community, and educators and develop a road map back with strict timetables for them to regain control over their schools.
As you’ve seen from the reaction to the One Newark plan, parents and community members are eager to play a greater role in how their children are educated. They want to be part of the conversation – and the solution.
What they need is the one thing that only the state can provide: a seat at the table.