Early Childhood Education: Advancing Implementation

A Report Submitted To:
Commissioner Vito A. Gagliardi, Sr.

In Response to the:
Commissioner’s Decision
June 1, 2001

Submitted by:
The Division of Early Childhood Education
New Jersey State Department of Education


TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. Table of Contents

II. Overview

III. Advancing Implementation Report

a) Early Childhood Education Curriculum Framework
b) Early Childhood Education Curriculum Compliance
c) Adopting a Uniform Regulatory Standard for Calculating the Projected Population of Eligible Preschool Students
d) Enrollment Compliance, outreach and recruitment
e) Determination of per pupil allocation
f) Assessment of student and Program needs
g) Early Childhood Education Operational Plan Compliance
h) Early Childhood Education Operational Plan Timelines

IV. Summary

V. Appendix (973 kb PDF )

A. Curriculum Framework Table of Contents (Draft)
B. Outreach and Recruitment Strategies Reporting Form (Draft)
C. Early Childhood Education Per-Pupil Allocations: Instructions, Salaries, Budget Work Sheet (Draft)
D. Early Childhood Education Operational Plan Compliance Forms (Draft)


Early Childhood Education: Advancing Implementation

Overview

In the administrative matter In Re: Abbott Global Issues, OAL Dkt. No. EDU 3246-01, petitioning boards of education (Perth Amboy, Keansburg, Trenton, Vineland, East Orange, Irvington, Phillipsburg and Elizabeth) and the Education Law Center on behalf of parents and students in Paterson, Newark, Jersey City and West New York have alleged that the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) failed to comply with the mandate of the New Jersey Supreme Court in implementing the Court’s decisions regarding programs and funding to be provided in the "Abbott" school districts. In particular, they alleged violation of the Court’s 1998 (Abbott V) and 2000 (Abbott VI) rulings on preschool programs. As a result, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Jeff Masin reviewed the petitioners’ specific allegations and the department’s responses during the 2000 – 2001 school year. The petitioners identified several issues that have been labeled as ‘global issues’. In April 2001, the ALJ distilled the allegations into a handful of fundamental issues and addressed them by summarizing the parties’ positions, reviewing the record, and offering comment, suggestions and recommended orders based on that review.

The Commissioner reviewed the ALJ’s decision on the global issues and affirmed, modified and reversed various aspects of the ALJ’s initial decision June 1, 2001. The Commissioner directed the department to review its practices and procedures and to develop guidelines, rules or recommendations related to a number of the global issues. The Commissioner ordered this review to be completed by August 31, 2001.

As directed by the Commissioner, the Division of Early Childhood Education (DECE) engaged in a number of activities to address the following global issues included in this report. These issues include:

    • Early Childhood Education Curriculum Framework;
    • Early Childhood Education Curriculum Compliance;
    • Adopting a Uniform Regulatory Standard for Calculating the Projected Population of Eligible Preschool Students;
    • Enrollment Compliance, outreach and recruitment;
    • Determination of a per pupil allocation;
    • Assessment of student and Program needs;
    • Early Childhood Education Operational Plan Compliance; and
    • Early Childhood Education Operational Plan Timeline.

Each of the global issues identified above are presented in individual sections of this report. Within each section, a summary of the ALJ’s findings and Commissioner’s decision is presented; DECE recommendation(s); process undertaken to review practices and procedures and develop guidelines, rules or recommendations and, lastly, the next steps to be taken to fully implement the recommendations of this report.


Early Childhood Education Curriculum Framework

Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) directed the department to issue in final form the Early Childhood Education Curriculum Framework (Framework), issue an interim Framework, or to issue interim suggestions and strategies meant to guide districts in how to best achieve the expectation for well-planned, high-quality early childhood education. The ALJ concluded that although the department is not in violation of the Abbott decision at this time, in order to truly meet the Court's mandate and avoid concerns that the Early Childhood Education Program Expectations: Standards of Quality (Standards) are not fully sufficient as Standards, the final Framework, or an interim version, must be in place by June 15, 2001.

Commissioner’s Decision

The Commissioner rejected the ALJ’s conclusion on the necessity of the preschool Framework document. The Commissioner also reversed the order directing its promulgation by June 15, 2001, finding instead that quality, Court-compliant preschool programs can be implemented based upon standards set forth in the definitive Early Childhood Education Program Expectations: Standards of Quality document already issued. However, since the Framework will be a valuable supplemental tool for all districts, the Commissioner directed the department to ensure the planned schedule for development be maintained as announced and that it be finalized and disseminated by August 2002.

Process Undertaken

The process undertaken to develop the Early Childhood Education Curriculum Framework mirrors the process used to develop the framework documents for the Kindergarten – Grade Twelve Core Curriculum Content Standards. Thus, in order to achieve the Commissioner’s directive, the DECE held a three-day writing team retreat on July 25, 26, and 27, 2001. At that time a rough draft of the table of contents (see Appendix A) and Chapter V of the Framework document was developed. Chapter V is the substantive content of the Framework that is linked to the preschool Standards. The draft of the table of contents and Chapter V is approximately 170 pages and, in August 2001, the co-chairs have been reviewing and editing this chapter. In addition, the writing team members are preparing the first four chapters of the Framework, which include the preface, structure of the Framework, influential figures, programs and theories, and research and practice in early childhood education. Drafts of these four chapters are due at the beginning of September 2001. It is estimated that the final document will be between 220 – 250 pages.

Next Steps

The DECE is in the process of preparing information that can be placed on the department’s website regarding the development process of the Framework. The department is also in the process of hiring the print and graphic editors and it is anticipated that these two additional consultants will be available by September to begin their assignments.

The DECE will continue to move ahead by taking steps to ensure that the co-chairs work with the copy and graphics editor to prepare a first draft of the entire Framework document by the end of September 2001. The first draft of the Framework is scheduled for printing during the first week of October 2001.

Planning is also under way for two or three resource team focus groups tentatively scheduled for the week of November 12, 2001 to review and provide feedback to the draft ECEC Framework document. Focus group locations and an invitational letter are being prepared. The first draft of the framework document will be distributed with the invitational letter to all resource team members during the middle of October 2001. Following review of the resource team feedback and edits to the draft Framework, the document will be disseminated to the entire early childhood education community and a second round of two or three statewide focus groups will be held in either January or February 2002. The entire early childhood education community will then have an opportunity to comment on the draft Framework in this second round of focus groups. After feedback from the second round of focus group sessions is incorporated into the Framework, the document will proceed through the department’s review and editing process. It is anticipated that the document will be finalized and printed by the end of April 2002. Implementation workshops to distribute the document are planned for May and June 2002 so that educators can use the document in the 2002 – 2003 school year.


Early Childhood Education Curriculum Compliance

Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling

The ALJ found that the department must insist that districts provide the department with their plans as to how they will achieve successful implementation of the curriculum in district-operated and community-based providers. The department is responsible for assuring that districts provide effective early childhood education to their students. It cannot do so if it does not have knowledge of the plans by which districts intend to achieve this goal. While the ALJ recognized that the level of information and detail that the department requires to adequately assure it of both the intention and the ability of the districts to achieve implementation of the appropriate curriculum must be left to the expertise of the agency, he found that the DOE must become the active insurer of the achievement of Abbott’s goals. The ALJ recommended that the department insist on the review of district early childhood education curriculum plans to ensure effective schooling.

Commissioner’s Decision

The Commissioner agreed with the ALJ that to the extent that the district curriculum plans may not be undergoing sufficient review in the context of department review of early childhood education operational plans or otherwise, the department must revise its practices and procedures to include such review, and that guidance must be provided to districts as to what they must submit in order for such review to occur. The department was also directed to develop any necessary amendments to existing rules for presentation to the State Board of Education, so that, with public input and discussion, that body may duly consider their promulgation pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (N.J.S.A. 52:14B). In order to ensure that any changes to, or classification of, the review process are in place prior to the due date for submission of early childhood education operational plans for 2002-2003, and to allow for adequate preparation by districts, the Commissioner directed that the department develop and publicize any such revisions or clarifications by August 31, 2001.

Recommendations

Prior to the ALJ's ruling, the DECE had taken steps to ensure district curriculum compliance with Early Childhood Education Program Expectations: Standards of Quality. In June 2001, the DECE provided districts with technical assistance on implementation of the Early Childhood Education Program Expectations, Standards of Quality. The department recommended that all districts submit Curriculum Alignment Forms (CAF) to be reviewed on an annual basis and use these to serve as an assessment tool for the department to ensure curriculum alignment with the Standards. However, in light of the ALJ's ruling and the Commissioner's decision, the department recommends an annual review of districts’ CAFs and the provision of technical assistance to those districts considered "standard deficient". A regulatory amendment will be required to reflect this recommendation.

Process Undertaken

In order to effectively conduct an evaluation of Abbott school district’s early childhood education curricula and to ensure that their curricula are in compliance with the Core Curriculum Content Standards via the preschool Standards, the department began by reviewing current practices and procedures. A plan of action was developed to revise those practices in order to ensure that district curriculum is aligned with preschool standards.

In June 2001, the department requested that districts submit revised/updated CAFs and district-developed curricula. CAFs, as well as district-developed curriculums were reviewed for curriculum alignment with the preschool Standards,. The department designed an evaluation checklist to effectively determine whether district CAFs and/or curricula were aligned with the preschool Standards. The evaluation included the following: the Early Childhood Education Program Expectations: Standards of Quality, New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards, curriculum page number and/or reference number, whether the curriculum meets the Standard criteria, how the curriculum demonstrates the preschool standard(s) and any deficiency. This review determined what particular guidance/suggestions and technical assistance needed to be provided by the department.

While awaiting the submission of CAFs from districts, the DECE invited other department offices, PIRC, and county offices, as well as district staff to serve on a workgroup which met weekly to develop a monitoring tool for district self-assessment and department on-site assessment for curriculum compliance. Once all CAF forms were submitted and reviewed by DECE staff, the department designed a checklist to track phone calls to districts, document advice offered, and district response and feedback on how they will address Corrective Action Plans. DECE phoned districts to provide guidance and suggestions on aligning curriculum with Standards. Nine of the 30 Abbott districts required guidance and were given suggestions on improving curriculum so that it was aligned with the Standards. None of the districts showed evidence of being severely "curriculum deficient." The department determined that very little technical assistance was needed at this time.

Next Steps

The next steps include annual workshops to provide guidance, feedback and suggestions on aligning curriculum with the Standards. If the department and/or the district determine that individual assistance is needed, the department will ensure that it is provided. The department will conduct a Program Development Institute in 2001 - 2002 to provide training on completion of the new self-assessment tool and to establish the format of the on-site curriculum assessment visit that will be coordinated with the program compliance visits. Each year, district early childhood education supervisors will conduct a self-study to evaluate their curriculum for compliance with the Early Childhood Program Expectations: Standards of Quality. The early childhood education supervisor or his/her designee will be prepared to demonstrate the alignment of the curriculum with the following components of the Early Childhood Education Program Expectations: Standards of Quality: Social/Emotional Development; Creative Arts; Health Safety and Physical Education; Language Arts Literacy; Mathematics; Science; Social Studies; and World Languages. A Correction Action Plan (CAP) will be developed to ensure improvement and/or compliance where deficiencies are identified.

The department will also include curriculum assessment as part of the early childhood education operational plan compliance-monitoring process discussed later in this report. Documentation of compliance may take the form of a desk audits, observation of program or interview of personnel. The curriculum assessment may also examine any district program and curriculum alignment documentation such as samples of lesson plans, computer software used, student portfolios, assessment tools, testimony of staff, and handbooks for parents and staff. The assessment may also include, but is not limited to, an on-site evaluation of the district and/or provider classrooms, offices, and playgrounds.

The results of these reviews will be submitted to the district. If required, the district would have 30 days in which to file a CAP after receiving the results of the curriculum assessment. The DECE shall ensure that the district is provided with technical assistance to implement the CAP. Lastly, a year-end report will be prepared and submitted to the assistant commissioner of the DECE.


Adopting a Uniform Regulatory Standard for
Calculating the Projected Population of Eligible Preschool Students

Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling

The ALJ directed the department to consider adopting a uniform regulatory standard for calculating the projected population of eligible preschool students after public input.

Commissioner’s Decision

The Commissioner agreed with the ALJ and directed the department to develop an amendment to N.J.A.C. 6A:24.3(a) 8 for presentation to the State Board of Education at its August 2001 meeting, so that, with public input and discussion, the state board may duly consider its promulgation pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (N.J.S.A. 52:14B).

Recommendation

The department is recommending the following process for determining the universe and projected number of eligible preschool children. The district must determine the universe by using two data sources: the prior year’s Application for State School Aid (ASSA) and the Non-Public School Enrollment Report. The ASSA report contains the prior year kindergarten, first grade and Charter School enrollments as reported by the district. Each Abbott school district reports their enrollments to the department in October using the ASSA report form. At the present time, the department requests the non-public school enrollment data through the Non-public School enrollment Report from each non-public school. This data is currently reported as a Kindergarten through Grade six total. It is recommended that the department’s non-public school enrollment report be revised so that grade level enrollment is reported separately and not as a Kindergarten through Sixth grade total. Until the Non-Public School Enrollment Report is revised, the department will request the kindergarten and first grade enrollment data from each non-public school in the Abbott districts and forward this enrollment data to each Abbott district in October. To determine the universe of three- and four-year-old children the district must follow the calculations below using the two enrollment reports described above.

Step one: The district must add together the first grade enrollment data for the district and all Charter Schools from the ASSA report. For the 2001 – 2002 and the 2002 – 2003 school years, the department will collect the first grade enrollment data from the non-public schools in each Abbott district and forward this enrollment data to each Abbott district. The district then adds the non-public first grade enrollment data to the first grade ASSA enrollment data to determine the universe of potential first grade children in the district.

Step two: The district must add together the kindergarten data for the district’s and all Charter Schools from the ASSA report. For the 2001 – 2002 and the 2002 – 2003 school years, the department will collect the kindergarten enrollment data from the non-public schools in each Abbott district and forward this enrollment data to each Abbott district. The district then adds the non-public school kindergarten enrollment data to the kindergarten ASSA data to determine the universe of eligible kindergarten children in the district.

Step three: The final step in determining the universe of preschool involves averaging the total of the first grade and kindergarten enrollments from step one and two above and using this total for both the three-and four-year-old universe of children.

In order to determine the projected number of eligible children that may enroll in the district’s early childhood education program, first, the district must use the universe number obtained above for each age group. Second, the district must make appropriate adjustments to enrollment projections for the three- and four-year-old children based on the documented history of the actual enrollments in the three- and four-year-old program and the program growth over past years. The districts must also identify any factors in the community that might affect the growth rate in the three-and four-year old program. The result of the process is the minimum projected number of three-and four-year-old children that needs to be served and used for planning purposes in the early childhood education one-year operational plan for the next school year.

Process Undertaken

Prior to the ALJ’s ruling, the DECE had taken steps to provide guidance to the Abbott districts on a uniform method to determine the universe and projected number of eligible preschool students. Based on input from the early childhood education community, the department disseminated guidance to the Abbott school districts to assist them in calculating the universe and projected number of eligible preschool children. The department had discussions and /or received written comments on the content of this guidance from the Governors Office, Abbott Superintendents, Early Childhood Education Supervisors, Department of Human Services Community Providers, the Education Law Center, the Association for School Superintendents, and the Association for Children in New Jersey. As a result of this process, the department developed a document called the Abbott Implementation Guidelines. This informal guidance was created to assist the Abbott districts as they plan for and develop their early childhood education one-year operational plan.

In order to expedite a process to develop rule language to codify a uniform standard to calculate the universe and projected number of eligible preschool children, on June 29, 2001 the department forwarded a letter to the members of the State Board of Education that outlined the rule development process. Next, on July 18, 2001, an informative letter was disseminated to the members of the State Board of Education and the early childhood education community that provides the background. On July 25, 2001, a suggested uniform standard for districts to calculate the universe and projected number of eligible preschool children in the Abbott school districts was forwarded to the early childhood education community for review.

On August 1, 2001, the department presented to the members of the State Board of Education a status report on the development of the rule language for developing a uniform standard to calculate the universe and projected number of eligible preschool children in the Abbott school districts.

The department also invited the early childhood education community to attend two regional forums held on August 7 and 9, 2001 to discuss the proposed uniform standard. The members of the early childhood education community included, but were not limited to, Abbott Chief School Administrators and Early Childhood Education Supervisors, the State Colleges and Universities and various agencies and associations including the following: New Jersey Center for Children Advocacy, Statewide Parents Advocacy Network, New Jersey State Federation of Teachers, New Jersey Head Start Association, New Jersey Association of Independent School, New Jersey Professional Development Center, Child Care Action Programs for Parents, New Jersey School Age Coalition, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, New Jersey Association for Kindergarten Educators and New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children. These forums provided opportunities for the early childhood education community to provide additional public comment on the suggested process to determine the universe and projected number of eligible preschool children. Unfortunately, attendance at the forums was low and only totaled 30 attendees, with representation from Abbott Early Childhood Education Supervisors, Abbott School District personnel, DOE personnel, and Child Care Action Programs for Parents, Hispanic Directors Association of New Jersey, New Jersey Association for Kindergarten Educators, and Atlantic/Cape Community College.

The department is presently organizing and reviewing public comments received from the public forums and other written comments as received by the department. Based upon this public input, the department is developing the summary memo and regulatory language as required by the code amendment process.

Next Steps

On October 3, 2001, the rule language will be presented to the members of the State Board of Education at the proposal level. On November 5, 2001, the rule language is to be published in the New Jersey Register and the 30-day comment period will begin. Public Testimony is to be held before the members of the State Board of Education on Wednesday, November 21, 2001 and on December 5, 2001, the public comment period ends. The department will then review, and respond to the comments generated during the public comment period for the State Board meeting to be held on January 2, 2002. On January 2, 2002, the rule language will be presented at adoption level to the members of the State Board of Education. If approved, the new rule language will be published in the New Jersey Register and become effective on February 4, 2002. As mentioned in the recommendation section above, districts will use this uniform regulatory method to calculate the universe and projected number of eligible preschool children for planning purposes when preparing their early childhood education one-year operational plan and to assess if they are serving all eligible three- and four-year-children in the preschool program.


Enrollment Compliance, Outreach and Recruitment

Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling

The ALJ’s ruling states that preschool education in the Abbott districts is required to be available to all students whose parents want their child to attend. There are, of course, reasons why the percentage of eligible children who actually enroll in the programs a district makes available may be less than 100 percent, even when the district has all the facilities and associated necessities to enable all students in the district to attend. Presumably some parents will choose not to send their children, or will make some other arrangements for a preschool program not associated with the district’s plan. The ALJ further states that the department must assure that district plans contain recruitment and outreach activities that are adequately funded and reasonably geared to increase the number of children who are enrolled in the Abbott preschool program.

Commissioner’s Decision

The Commissioner recognized in his decision that intensified outreach is necessary when enrollment does not reach a minimum threshold of eligible students. Furthermore, adequately funded plans are needed for ongoing and expeditious improvement of existing enrollment patterns even where the minimum threshold has been met, so that, as soon as practicable, access to preschool programs meeting state standards is available to all eligible students. The Commissioner further stated that if enrollment and recruitment plans or corrective action plans may not be undergoing sufficient review, then the department must revise its practices and procedures as may be necessary to include such review, and, if warranted, develop corresponding rule amendments for presentation to the State Board of Education.

Recommendations

The department has, at least biannually, analyzed all district submitted data to determine if progress is being made to recruit and serve all eligible students whose parents want them to attend the Abbott preschool program. For the 2001 – 2002 school year, all districts except for Elizabeth were serving at least 50 percent of their projected approved enrollment and, thus, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A: 24-3.3(a) 8 did not require a Corrective Action Plan (CAP). Elizabeth could not serve 50 percent of their projected population due to a lack of classroom space. In order to further maximize the number of children that are enrolled in the Abbott preschool program, it is recommended that the department should raise the percent of projected number of children that each district is expected, at a minimum, to serve every year. It is recommended that a CAP be required if the percentage of children enrolled in the early childhood education program is less than to 70 percent in the 2001 – 2002 school year; 80 percent in the 2002 – 2003 school year and 90 percent in the 2003 – 2004 school year and beyond. It is also recommended that each district review their recruitment and outreach plans for the 2001 – 2002 school year and strengthen these activities to maximize participation in future years. The department will also provide information on additional recruitment and outreach activities to districts. An amendment to N.J.A.C. 6A: 24-3.3 (a) 8 will be required to reflect these recommendations.

When a district’s enrollment falls below the minimum enrollment percentage rate for each year a district must submit a CAP. The following categories/strategies must be included in any CAP: (1) consortiums, (2) expansion of Community Contact Groups, (3) general advertisement and awareness programs, (4) media outlets, and (5) interaction and use of elected officials, sports icons, etc. A draft of additional recruitment and outreach activities and a reporting form that should be forwarded to districts with a request for a CAP are included in Appendix B.

Process Undertaken

In developing a process to ensure compliance, the department performed an analysis of all pre-school data in June 2001. The data analyzed included actual enrollments as compared to projected enrollments at specific time periods throughout the school year. The data was then examined further to determine percentages and trends, resulting in conclusions, by the department, that the percentage of children served each year should be increased. This type of analysis determined the recommendation that the 50 percent benchmark for the universe of children to be served be increased to 90 percent over a three-year period.

Each district’s recruitment and outreach strategies were also examined in light of the information provided through the above data analysis to determine if districts needed assistance with identifying additional recruitment and outreach strategies. As a result, the additional recruitment and outreach strategies and reporting form for the CAP is recommended.

Next Steps

The department will revise the Corrective Action Plan form to reflect additional recruitment strategies that districts must engage in if enrollment does not meet the recommended projected percentage for each school year. This draft document will also be discussed with the districts to determine if any additional strategies need to be added. The department will also ensure that CAPs are implemented as required and that if the district enrollment projections are still not met, the department will continue to work with the district to identify reasons and to develop additional recruitment and outreach strategies.


Determination of a Per Pupil Allocation

Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling

The ALJ concluded that the department clearly understands its obligation to ensure that districts have all necessary funding for Abbott districts and programs and has demonstrated that understanding in some circumstances. Furthermore, the ALJ was unable to conclude that the department made determinations on preschool programs and funding applications based on predetermined fiscal considerations.

Commissioner’s Decision

The Commissioner stressed that identifying and contracting with community providers is a district responsibility and is required for providers meeting the Abbott standards when practical. He affirmed the ALJ’s finding that, to the extent that department determinations on preschool program and funding applications may ever have been based on predetermined fiscal considerations rather than on assessment of student needs, this must not occur. He further directed that the Department’s method of review must be adjusted to the extent necessary, if any, to ensure that district plans to use community providers, including Head Start, are evaluated based upon student needs, with considerations of cost and practicality assessed relative to other means of meeting State standards, and that guidance is provided to districts as to the information the Department needs for adequate review.

Recommendations

The DECE recommends that districts contracting with community providers implement a zero-based budget approach. This approach will establish consistent budget parameters that reflect the needs of the individual program. The per-pupil allocation may differ among programs and districts. By using a zero-based budgeting approach, budgets will be reviewed and evaluated on actual program costs and the possibility of duplicative costs within the budget will be eliminated. Districts must provide a budget for each provider with their early childhood education one-year operational plan. The provider budget must contain the superintendent’s signature. The DECE will review these budgets as part of the plan approval process. In addition, while the department must allow providers the opportunity to develop a budget that reflects the needs of the children and the center, the department needs to look at reasonable costs and develop standards similar to those established for private schools for the handicapped.

Process Undertaken

To ensure that the department’s recommendations can be implemented in a timely manner and that the method of allocation would be consistent, a process was undertaken providing for the organization of a Per Pupil Allocation Workgroup. The workgroup members included representatives from the Department of Human Services, school districts (Camden and Elizabeth), Child Care Providers (Newark, Camden and Vineland), Unified Child Care Agencies, New Jersey Child Care Advisory Council, the Department of Education/Division of Early Childhood Education and the Division of Finance. A meeting of the workgroup was convened on Friday, July 13, 2001 at the offices of the Department of Education, Trenton, New Jersey. The meeting focused on suggestions and recommendations for the Budget Template and Instructions for the 2002-2003 Budget (see Appendix C). Based on the discussion and recommendations from the workgroup, a draft Budget Template and Instructions were prepared and then faxed to the entire work group for review and comments. This draft budget was developed using a zero-based budgeting approach.

Next Steps

After approval, the Provider Budget Template and Instructions will be included in the early childhood education one-year operational plan. Training sessions on how to complete the Provider Budget will be conducted by the department with the early childhood education supervisors and any questions relative to the instructions of preparing will be addressed.


Assessment of Student and Program Needs

Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling

The ALJ directed that districts, as well as the department, must engage in specific evaluations and assessments of the needs of their students, programs and community based providers so as to determine in detail their specific requirements and to formulate plans and applications reasonably geared to meet those needs and thereby assure that Abbott-quality preschool is available for all eligible children. In addition, the department must make assessments and ultimately assure that the districts are providing such programs. In order to properly undertake these tasks, the DOE must issue guidelines, probably in the form of detailed regulations, that advise districts and providers as to the information deemed necessary to allow for the districts and the DOE to adequately understand the needs and plan, fund and carry out the programs, as well as assess their adequacy and success. The ALJ noted that the exact details of what is necessary to do this must be left, in the first instance, to the department to determine.

Commissioner’s Decision

The Commissioner modified the ALJ’s directive with respect to needs assessment and program evaluation by clarifying that the State may allocate responsibility, as it deems appropriate for particular tasks. However, the Commissioner concurred that assessments of student needs and evaluation of programs are essential to proper fulfillment of the Abbott mandate, and that the department must determine the manner in which such assessments and evaluations are to be undertaken. Therefore, the Commissioner directed that to the extent that the department may not be ensuring that assessments of student need are occurring or providing sufficient guidance as to how they are to be conducted, or that the department may not be ensuring that programs are being evaluated for compliance with approved plans, or that the department may not be making its determinations on preschool and supplemental funding requests based on assessment of student needs, the department shall recommend to the Commissioner such revisions to its practices and procedures as may be necessary to achieve these goals, as well as recommend whether any guidelines or rules may be warranted.

Recommendations

In order to accurately assess needs and insure consistency between and among programs, the department is recommending that a needs assessment should be divided into three sections:

  1. Health and Social Assessment. During the registration process, the district should gain basic information from the child’s family. The proposed ‘School Health Guidelines’ document that is being prepared for distribution by the Division of Student Services, Department of Education includes all basic health and social services needs assessments that should be conducted prior to a child’s entry into school. Districts must use this information when conducting the health and social services needs assessments. Some of these assessments include: child’s primary language, other languages spoken in the home, and medical and nutritional needs. Children should also receive a hearing and vision test to identify any physical problems that may impede learning.

  2. Program Assessment. Consistent with the evaluations being conducted by WESTAT in the independent Abbott study, the ECERS-R inventory should be used to assess program needs. It is recommended that the department employ consultants trained for inter-rater reliability to conduct this assessment and share the findings with the teacher/principal/director, early childhood supervisor, the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services. This would allow the district to provide additional support to programs in need and allow the department to monitor progress of programs.

  3. School Readiness Assessment. To obtain information on a child’s developmental skills and academic readiness skills and assure that programs will meet the needs of the children enrolled; districts should use the Brigance Screen or similar reliable or valid tool. This can be individually administered by classroom teachers and provides a basis for each child’s readiness for school during the registration process.

Districts should also rely on the infrastructure that presently exists to ensure quality programs are offered. Master teachers should assess individual program needs, the family workers and district support teams should identify health and social service needs and assist families with obtaining necessary services. Child Study Teams (CST) should be used to identify children who are in need of special education services. The above recommendations are to be required for every program, district or community-based, that is offering the Abbott preschool program. Since regulations already exist for the implementation of CST in the special education regulations, no further regulations are needed. Amendments to current regulations will be proposed to the State Board of Education to reflect the needs assessment recommendations.

Process Undertaken

To evaluate the current practices that are occurring in each district, the DECE sent each Abbott district early childhood education supervisor a survey to complete. Surveys were received from 27 of the 30 districts. Analysis of the surveys indicate the following: fifteen (15) districts reported using the ECERS-R evaluation tool (assesses space and furnishings; personal care routines, language-reasoning; activities; interaction; program structure; parents and staff); twelve (12) the districts reported using the Brigance evaluation tool (assesses key developmental and early academic skills); three (3) districts reported using the Early Screening Inventory – Revised (ESI) evaluation tool (assesses speech needs); three (3) districts reported using the IDEA evaluation tool (assesses preschool children for English proficiency) and two (2) districts reported using the High/Scope Program Quality Assurance (PQA) evaluation tool (assesses learning environment, daily routine, adult-child interactions, and curriculum planning and assessment). In addition, many districts indicated that they rely on master teachers, teacher observation, student portfolios and parent surveys to obtain information on needs of programs, children and families.

Next Steps

Workshops will be held to help districts use the data obtained through the needs assessment process for program planning purposes to use the Brigance screen, and hiring consultants to conduct the ECERS-R. Regulations will also need to be revised to include the needs assessment recommendations.


Early Childhood Education Operational Plan Compliance

Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling

The ALJ ruled that districts, as well as the department, must engage in specific evaluations and assessments of the needs of their students, programs and community based providers so as to determine in detail their specific requirements and to formulate plans and applications reasonably geared to meet those needs and thereby assure that the Abbott-quality preschool is available to all eligible children. In addition he found that the department must make assessments and ultimately assure that the districts are providing such programs. The ALJ concluded that in order to properly undertake these tasks, the department must issue guidelines, probably in the form of detailed regulations, that advise districts and providers as to the information deemed necessary to allow for the districts and the department to adequately understand the needs and plan, fund and carry out the programs, as well as assess their adequacy and success.

Commissioner’s Decision

The Commissioner agreed that an assessment of needs and an evaluation of programs are central to any meaningful implementation of Abbott mandates. Requirements for such assessment and evaluation are inherent throughout the detailed rules governing urban education reform in Abbott districts. As the Abbott initiative was quickly put into place so as not to delay immediate benefit to Abbott students – program assessment and evaluation may not be as refined, as they should have been. To the extent that the Department may not be ensuring that programs are being evaluated for compliance with approved operational plans the Commissioner directed that the department recommend such revisions to its practices and procedures as may be necessary to achieve these goals, as well as recommend whether any guidelines or rules may be warranted.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the DECE evaluate the status of each Abbott school district in implementing their program in compliance to its approved early childhood education one-year operational plan. This evaluation will consist of each district completing a program plan self-study each year (see Appendix D). District staff will evaluate their program in accordance with their approved early childhood education program’s one-year operational plan, recognizing those areas in compliance and identifying those areas in need of improvement or compliance. The self-study is to be completed in the fall of each year by the district (similar to the district’s Quality Assurance Annual Report) prior to any on-site program evaluation visit by department staff. Technical assistance will be offered immediately if the self-study reflects problems.

As a second part of the program compliance plan, the department will review the district’s submitted self-study evaluation and then schedule an on-site visit to the district, at least once every three years. A draft of the on-site operational plan form is included in Appendix D. The curriculum compliance review, as mentioned earlier in this report, will be a part of this assessment. Any areas not in compliance will be identified and the district will need to submit a Corrective Action Plan. Although, this three-year on-site review cycle is more stringent than the seven-year certification cycle pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A: 7A-14 (a) (i), it is deemed necessary given the magnitude of the program and how recently implementation began. Regulations will need to be developed to reflect the monitoring recommendations.

Process Undertaken

The process used by the department to design the operational plan compliance form and process included the review of several existing department monitoring tools and practices. Evaluation processes such as the On-site Program Review of Charter Schools and Rules for the Annual Evaluations of Local School Districts were examined to determine whether they contain information that would be helpful in developing the DECE’s plan compliance forms and process. The DECE also reviewed the Guide to Accreditation by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs.

In addition, a workgroup consisting of county and state educational specialists, Abbott District early childhood education supervisors and master teachers, child care specialists from the Division of Family Development, representatives from DOE Preschool Special Education and experienced consultants working with the DOE was convened to review existing state and national evaluation processes and to offer their expertise in preparation of an evaluation tool to be used during on-site visitations of districts.

Following the recommendations from the workgroup, a draft ‘self-study’ program evaluation checklist was developed that should be used by districts to review their one-year operational plan. In addition a draft ‘on-site’ program evaluation checklist was developed for the on-site evaluation team to use. Guidelines were then developed to offer technical assistance to districts in preparation of the evaluation process and included in Appendix D.

Next Steps

The self-study and on-site draft documents in Appendix D will be reviewed and revised for compliance with any potential revisions to future one-year early childhood education operational plan. In order to continue with an ongoing process of improving operational plan compliance in every Abbott school district, a professional development institute will be planned in 2001 in order to prepare the districts for the format of the self-study and on-site evaluations. Also, a schedule of on-site evaluations for 2001 has to be developed, as well as identification of a department evaluation team. Amended regulations must be proposed to the State Board of Education to reflect the monitoring requirements.


Early Childhood Education Operational Plan Timelines

Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling

The ALJ noted that the department’s application process suffers because there are no fixed time frames for submission of filings and rendering of decisions. He suggested that district papers should be due on dates certain, with the department decisions based on whatever is submitted and resulting claims of deficiency addressed on appeal.

Commissioner’s Decision

The Commissioner, in response to the comments of the ALJ, recognized that the comments do not constitute a finding or order. However, the Commissioner determined that it is clear from the record that problems exist with the time frames within which various Abbott determinations are occurring. Therefore, the Commissioner directed the Department to examine this issue, identify the places where improvement is necessary and the means required to effectuate such improvement (for example, regulatory or operational revisions, additional staff, coordination with other affected agencies regarding possible changes to their rules and procedures, and so forth), and report its conclusions and recommendations to him, so that the department may effectuate changes in preparation for the 2002-2003 school year.

Recommendations

The department fully understands the need to provide a more efficient review of each district’s early childhood education one-year operational plan. In addressing this concern, it is recommended that the early childhood education one-year operational plan and budget should only contain the program components for the three- and four-year-old programs. Since the early childhood education plan is by nature a district-wide plan, the early childhood education preschool program budget should therefore be removed from each school-based budget plan. This would dramatically reduce review time and deliver to the districts an expedient approval on its early childhood education one-year operational plan. In addition, as recommended by the ALJ, districts must submit the one-year operational plan by December 1 of each year and that the plan needs to contain all necessary information. A determination will be rendered on the information submitted and the DECE will not engage in any additional requests for information after the receipt of the district’s plan. If districts do not submit sufficient or adequate information on which to base an approval, then approval will not be granted. The department will render early childhood decisions prior to the district’s submission of its budget to the county superintendent’s office.

The department also recommends revisions to the formula for Early Childhood Program Aid (ECPA) to address the needs of the three- and four-year-old full-day, full-year program costs and should not be based on the K-12 enrollment formula. Since additional aid is often requested, a legislative proposal to revise the ECPA funding formula needs to be further researched. These funds should also be tracked separately for fiscal year 2003 under 20-211 program codes, and then in Fiscal Year 2004 (giving software vendors time to adjust their systems) Fund 14 will be created for the exclusive purpose of tracking the entire cost for the early childhood education program. In addition, if the districts required a greater contribution then their allocated ECPA formula, a request for additional Abbott v. Burke aid will be made to the Legislature.

It is also recommended that additional staff be hired in the DECE to expedite the review and approval process. In addition, regulations need to be amended to include operational plan submission and approval timeframes.

Process Undertaken

To review the current practices and make the above recommendations, the assistant commissioner, Division of Finance convened a workgroup of 12-15 business administrators to revise the budget process. It was agreed that the approach to budgeting for the Early Childhood Education program as recommended above, would streamline the entire program and budget review process, allowing plans and budgets to be approved in an efficient manner.

Next Steps

The next steps are to revise the early childhood education one-year program and budget plans to reflect the recommendations above and then conduct a workshop for districts to understand any revisions in the program and budget plan and review process and timelines. Appropriate revisions to regulations and a revision to the ECPA funding provisions in proposal to the Legislature also need to be prepared.


Early Childhood Education: Advancing Implementation
Summary

Significant progress has already been made by the department in addressing concerns raised by the Commissioner and discussed in each section of this report. The steps as identified for each item will be the major focus of the activities of the DECE in the next year. In summary, these activities include:

  1. Making necessary revisions to existing regulatory language to incorporate the recommendations made in this report.

  2. Implementing and evaluating timelines for the submission, review and approval of Abbott one-year operational plans and budgets.

  3. Continuing with the timeline for the development and implementation of the Early Childhood Education Curriculum Framework.

  4. Implementing and evaluating the program accountability and evaluation plan for the Abbott school districts. The plan would include the monitoring of enrollment and approved operational plan compliance, as well as for program quality.

  5. Conducting and evaluating Program Development Institutes for the Abbott school districts on a variety of professional and program development topics, such as: conducting needs assessments, data driven decision-making, program compliance and developmentally-appropriate classrooms.