Under the new structure, the department has four main divisions: one that identifies and measures goals; one to recruit, develop, and retain teachers and administrators; one to ensure that the state's standardized tests are meaningful; and one to oversee charter schools and other programs. That division will be led by an "innovation officer."
A deputy commissioner will be in charge of making sure the work of the new divisions reaches district officials, Cerf said.
"None of this matters if it doesn't affect what happens within schools," he said.
Cerf also said one of the key figures in the new arrangement would be David Hespe, who was education commissioner from 1999 to 2001 and is Cerf's chief of staff.
Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, an umbrella group of most of the state's teachers unions, said it was the acting commissioner's prerogative to shuffle the organization. That doesn't bother the group, he said, as much as the administration's education proposals.
"It's not what the department heads are called. It's what the end product is that comes out," he said.
Christie has become a national figure in education, leading a state that ranks among the top in standardized test scores, graduation rates, and other measures. But low-income urban districts still fall far short despite huge subsidies from the state.
Christie has been pushing for changes supported by many education advocates both Democratic and Republican, but opposed in many instances by the New Jersey Education Association. The governor favors using scholarships funded by corporate contributions in exchange for tax breaks that would allow students in some cities to attend private schools. He wants the state to expand the number of publicly funded charter schools and find ways to more easily identify good teachers and fire low-performing ones.
Most of the measures would need approval from the Democrat-controlled Legislature, which has been reluctant to bring many of them to votes.
The state board Wednesday approved a measure that would not need legislative approval. It would allow struggling districts to hire superintendents without backgrounds in education. School districts in other states have adopted this practice with the idea of finding a strong organizer with business experience. Other school officials would be in charge of the academic program.
The board heard from an official with the National Council on Teacher Quality, which has found teacher-quality standards lacking in New Jersey and many other states.
Cerf said some of the group's concerns could be addressed without the Legislature's involvement.
"It is absolutely our intention as a commission to see what we can do at the regulatory level without the need for legislation," he said.