Question(s) for Politicians & School Officials


Who's Interpreting ESSA, (our new national education law) for parents & community members in your state? (For ESSA review and feedback processes and concerns, please refer to the letter"  sent by Senator Patty Murray & Representative Bobby Scott to Secretary DeVos on July 28th. Also, review this letter that focuses on the necessity of equity goals in the state plans.

Are federal, state and school representatives disseminating information, promoting discussions and/or engaging the public "about the law" based on the views of school officials only? Please note: Asking questions about social inclusion/exclusion and equality --- or democracy should be necessary questions to ask in a public school-based context  --- if challenges  to previous or existing norms are to be addressed, (i.e., Consider the SBOE in D.C . who asked parents and community members to fill out applications so that "SBOE officials could choose" who would be on their ESSA Task
Force, a method that limits democracy. They also told parents and community members "who were not chosen for the task force" to send in their comments.  They could not, however,   participate or speak at the meetings.) Under these circumstances and/or to save invaluable time it is important to ask at the start of any state initiated process   if --- state educational leaders --- will be the only ones "ultimately" making "any and all" decisions in spite of the stakeholder engagement meetings

Again, knowing how stakeholder engagement meetings will be conducted and how agendas will be determined  --- or simply asking if certain provisions will be discussed at all (equity? implementation processes and timelines?), etc. --- should be considered critical questions that require immediate answers  for the sake of goal clarity,  inclusivity and especially in terms of the   evaluation of the participatory process . Most importantly, these mandatory questions set the stage for procedural justice and fairness  since: "consultation without attention to power and politics will lead to voice without influence. Furthermore, change or reform of political institutions without attention to (methods for) inclusion. . . will only reinforce the status quo."  (Gaventa).

Parents and community stakeholders or the public overall should, therefore, ask how participatory democracy  is being  promoted in states, districts and public schools.   With this statement in mind, should t he department of education , school officials or the  CCSSO make t he decisions about who gets to participate or who can essentially interpret ESSA for parents and community stakeholders? Keep in mind, it is one thing to provide information about ESSA but it is another thing all together to interpret it or to choose groups to interpret it for all parents and community stakeholders without their input on who these groups will be. 

In response to the first question------ perhaps, they are nonprofits (chosen by the CCSSO or school representatives) who support school choice and charter schools. And yet, many parents and community stakeholders prefer school effectiveness over school choice and want some guarantee that equality, equity and excellence are school priorities. Given these facts, are school officials or leaders choosing people to interpret ESSA that they were not asked to choose? Are they, at the least, exposing parents and community stakeholders to a wide range of views --- supported by best practices and lessons learned --- beyond the longstanding biases of conservatives and teachers' unions or the narrow focus of the status quo agenda, especially at the state and local levels? If not, have they forgotten that as "public servants" their role, in essence, is to serve all children and, in turn, parents and community stakeholders, (a task that cannot be accomplished if they overlook the educational and political standpoints of marginialized communities)? 

With ESSA's emphasis on elevating the importance of decison-making at the the state and local levels to prevent federal overreach, it is critical that parents and community stakeholders interact with their state and local officials to decide what their overall state goals for supporting student achievement should be. To support procedural fairness, for instance, all stakeholders should become familiar with state, district and school-based past failures to better understand how these concerns were addressed (if they were addressed) in the hope that these mistakes, at the least, will not be repeated. Furthermore,  state and local school offiicals should be expected to discuss with the stakeholders the school-based factors that have marginalized, if not
excluded, weakened or overlooked the voices of parents and community stakeholders and the ways in which these practices have changed. Parent and community stakeholder views are critically important for they are their children's first or most immediate teachers and, therefore, have a lot to contribute to school-based conversations  --- even if their views differ, if not clash with the views of state officials, school leaders, teachers’ unions, lobbyists, etc. Moreover, it does not help matters at all when the school boards sound remarkably similar to the teachers' unions --- at the start and end of any engagement process --- or listening/learning tour(s) focusing on the needs of stakeholders. The operative words, in this sense, for these processes, should be "stakeholder engagement" not status quo involvement or engagement. 

To address this concern, parents and community stakeholders must understand how their views will be promoted, interpreted and counted in comparison to the views of teachers' unions, etc. They should also understand how state and local educational systems have equalized the playing field so that they, too can influence educational and political decisions tied to student achievement --- in the same way that teachers' unions and lobbyists do.  Clearly, no group should be placed in a position to declare that it represents all parents and community stakeholders nor should any one group determine the final state plans --- if  procedural fairness is the goal. This goal, of course, includes determining what lessons learned and best practices are in relationship to all children, especially underserved children (rather than allowing the political stances and biases of special interest groups to determine decisions). From this perspective, all decisions must be backed by a thorough systemic, research-based analysis pertaining to school-based decisions and the fair distribution of resources in districts ---- to ensure that children are served, first and foremost --- and/or to determine how these decisions will play out on the ground in schools --- or in reality --- based on the motivation and political will of school representatives. 
A case in point begins with ESSA’s omission of federally mandated teacher evaluations (Teachers' Unions fought for this provision.): states, instead, must decide how teacher effectiveness will be defined. More importantly, states must determine how parents and community members define or will define teacher effectiveness. What if the definition parents and community stakeholders choose includes holding teachers accountable for student performance? What if they want teachers’ evaluations tied to student test results even if teachers' unions do not? What if parents and community stakeholders think schools cease to be schools if teacher evaluations are watered down and lack meaning? (Note: The unions think the socioeconomic status of all children predetermines student achievement. They also do not think that low scores have anything to do with teacher performance in classrooms.) (Consider New Mexico, etc.). 

What if parents and community stakeholders want super data groups eliminated so they can tell who specifically needs targeted interventions --- and school officials, in spite of ESSA's requirements, still fail to count certain subgroups or even mask their performance  as they have done in the past?  What if parents and community members want and need school ratings that ensure that academic measures are the bulk of a state's plan  --- even if school officials do not?  And, what about useful indicators that differ from the choices of school officials? What if parents and community stakeholders want indicators that focus on  a leadership governance analysis and teaching analysis rather than ones that simply focus on the school climate or student engagement as educators want but without any mention of of race relations or classism (refer to Gaventa)? What if they want meaningful timelines that correspond to the educational needs of students rather than educators Note: Thus far, state timelines will cause students to wait more than a year or two (after ESSA’s passage in 2015) to benefit from its goals.).
How will they define what an underperforming school is, along with the timeline for a school to be designated as an underperforming school  --- and what if parents and community stakeholders want fines or penalities associated with accountability mechanisms? Will they want the 95% participation rate rather than the 67% rate for tests, attendance and graduation rates upheld in their state, especially since the push-out rates increase without goals and targets in place? And, what do they think about high-quality standards that states no longer have to demonstrate that they have --- since under this new law they only have to provide an "assurance" that they are implementing challenging standards? 
The 2nd, 3rd and 4th questions (focusing on  why should parents and community stakeholders must pay attention to how ESSA is being interpreted) ---  are all political questions that address the wide variety of special interest groups or lobbyists, at play, in the public education system.  For example, state officials, in the past, developed "low standards" (rather than ones that supported college and career ready standards) to ensure that their students could pass state assessments --- (a political strategy that was meant to protect their jobs. And yet, it was an ineffective stategy from the start for to rationalize this strategy they had to depend on deficit models , including but limited to:   racist theories (page 3 - cross-referenced or based on the literary imagination) , name calling  or stereotypes of the very children they were charged with serving --- in an effort to explain away their students' low test scores. This, of course, was and is a horrible practice for it  intentionally overlooks weak state, district, and school-based strategies tied to student achievement. (Is it any wonder that the college dropout rate is high in the U.S.?) Most of all, it is a  strategy that creates a domino effect that leads to a modified curriculum in classrooms and low pass scores on state tests or the PISA, NAEP, etc. --- or even the school to prison pipeline ---  produced by high dropout rates if schools are not the genuine article.

And still --- In this political environment --- where far too many educators have shortchanged children for decades ( and are still supporting some of these same strategies ) very few of them have brought up the most recent U.S. test scores (a type of accountability mechanism useful to stakeholders if not conservative politicians and teachers' unions) that are low for all groups on the most recent NAEP and PISA assessments in comparison to other nations. That the achievement gap has not improved for over forty years (according to many groups) means that that there is an urgent need for parents and community stakeholders to focus on what school officials actually do to support student achievement. Perhaps, research groups chosen by parents and community stakeholders should provide insights in support of the best decision-making processes or strategies for public schools since school leaders and officials often fail to address this need or fail to produce how (gold standard?) research or its effective implementation is monitored and supported --- if best practices are effectively implemented at all (especially in relationship to underserved schools... Consider the current state standards in some states or their failure to ensure that all students have research-based textbooks aligned to high-quality standards. Stakeholders should also ask why the teachers' unions and their lobbyists do not have campaigns that emphasize class ready teachers --- or demand research-based books for all students, etc.). 

In other words, before anyone states that the overall buy-in or the legitimacy of any final decisions were approved by parents and community stakeholders, it would make more sense for them to first ask if they were involved in the development of the plans and if they had an understanding of the issues.  Why? It is their children who will have to live with the ultimate results and consequences of school-based decisions --- decisions that must be based on the best solutions for all children (rather than the agendas of  special interest groups). To ensure that this type of process occurs parents and community stakeholders must demand that school officials create the opportuniity spaces for transparency, accountability, responsiveness and answerability, a key step that allows these concerns to take center stage in school govenance, discourse and decision-making in a timely manner. (Note: This discussion assumes that states and local school systems already have processes in place that support parents and community stakeholders in gaining access to a wide range of information, including the pros and cons of a particular issue. If state and local officials have not addressed this need: how can parents and community members talk about key subjects --- if they do not know what they do not know. . .? How can they sit at the tables where decisions are made --- before the decisions are made, if they have not been exposed to certain critical, if not controversial issues through training programs? How can their involvement lead to genuine input or authenic inquiries if they do not understand all aspects of pertinent accountability concerns?

Unfortunately, parents and community stakeholders already know that the very point of their presence (as participants) at school meetings is often missed or diminished when school representatives simply expect them to mimic or think and say what school representatives want them to say without any need for them to build their knowledge base, (a taboo point but one that needs to be discussed since it overlooks U.S. democratic ideals --- or the educative value of democracy.).  Moreover, since there has never been any formal recognition, to date, of the necessity of truly separating the law or ESEA/ESSA from politics --- the best solution should involve opportunity structures for a wide range of groups to take on the role of promoting ESSA in open forums or in workshops, etc. where the pros and cons of all pertinent subjects are challenged and explored from different angles, in depth. (Note: State and local websites only serve a limited amount of stakeholders and are not thorough or an effective way to reach all stakeholders). In fact, if politicians, unions and lobbyists, etc. are the only ones expected to determine how schools are run in certain states, districts and schools, this practice should change for it has not worked in the past and it is not working now.  The public must step up and take back its role as equal partners in schools by becoming informed and educated about equity and excellence in schools --- stances that should be backed by lessons learned as well as gold and evidenced-based research --- even if Trump has banned gold standard research for school choice voucher studies in D.C.???).

With these goals in mind, it is time for all stakeholders and/or the public to join the conversations centering on ESSA --- or to move pass one-dimensional viewpoints or superficial conversations about school-based concerns. It's time to figure out if
school leaders and teachers are, indeed, supporting school equity and excellence in classrooms as well as promoting effective district and state governance goals, particularly in the development of policies and practices that address the achievement gap.
It is time to figure out how on earth school, district and state representatives can hold themselves accountable for state accountabilty plans (a clear conflict of interest)--- if the public is not engaged in this process and/or if they do not provide a wide range of public spaces for discussions focusing on ESSA at the state and level levels --- including per pupil spending, local budgets and overall state funding.  And still, even after the discussions are completed, they must also figure out if the overall process was fair, egalitarian and/or based on procedural justice. If parents and community stakeholders were never exposed to and trained by organizations or individuals with a track record of supporting public school children, particularly underserved children but only exposed to  the status quo and its interpretation of ESSA  ---  the process was flawed.  When all is said and done then, the standpoint of parents and community stakeholders count, too. . .  They, of course, know that   equality and democratic ideals create the foundaton for participation, a fact that proves why parents, community stakeholders and public school students must be included in any process focusing on  transparency and accountability in the public school system . . .

Previous Questions:


Please refer to the April 12th Senate Hearing for more details... Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated, at the hearing, that it would cost 3.9 billion or a complete overhaul of state and local financial systems to equalize spending between schools, an impossible idea not worthy of consideration, from his perspective. He abruptly left his argument there without mentioning what the future holds for public school children, specifically poor children or how they can truly be served , if at all. (Note: He also mentioned that there was a huge coalition of educational organizations that did not want the comparability loophole addressed ---from unions to state organizations.) 

In other words, he never mentioned the purpose of Title One. He never mentioned poor children --- who just happen to be the beneficiaries of Title One.  Clearly, when this omission is addressed or the children are added to the equation or discussions, the comparability loophole will become more than just a loophole: it will become  legalized theft for it allows imbalances or inequities in school funding to continue so that funds intended for poor children show up in low poverty schools, which clearly is not or was not the original intent of Title One (or President Johnson's War on Poverty). This gaming of the system has been allowed to go on for decades, which, in essence, wants the the public to believe (if they know at all) that "all teachers are created equal." If they are equal (when it comes to teacher effectiveness tied to student achievement or test results) why is there a loophole in place allowing the majority of effective, tenured teachers --- or productive teachers to be placed in low poverty schools rather than in high poverty schools? ESSA is silent on this issue. Given this fact, states only have to respond to public reporting requirements to  ensure that the public knows where inexperienced teachers are placed throughout districts --- unless states utilize the flexibility provision to support the fair distribution of effective teachers, a goal that conservative politicians and conservative teachers's unions are against. It is, therefore, up to the public to demand this change --- otherwise, in spite of the reauthorization of ESSA, everything will remain unchanged. 

For instance:

         The federal government prohibits districts from calculating comparability using actual                                expenditures. Instead, it chooses to treat teachers as interchangeable widgets. For example, if School          A has 10 teachers and School B has 10 teachers, they must be providing a comparable education. It            is this loophole in federal law—the “comparability loophole”—that is at the heart of school funding              inequities.  (Refer to: Robert Hanna, Max Marchitello, and Catherine Brown, March 2015 )

During the hearing, Senator Alexander did say that the only recourse is for parents and stakeholders to use the ESSA reporting requirement (a requirement that addresses transparency and accountability concerns) to demand answers (and/or thorough explanations) about --- (I would say): the methodologies that states and local districts are using to equalize spending between schools including how they are supporting the supplement not supplant p rovisions. Clearly, they must focus on questions that underscore equality or the fair distribution of effective teachers in schools where low income students attend.


What methodologies are your states and local districts using to equalize spending between schools? How are they eliminating disparities between schools "before" they receive any Title One funds? For instance, what actual expenditures are districts spending on teachers' salaries and benefits (based on the fair distribution of effective, tenured teachers in each school) before they receive federal  supplemental Title One funds? Are these methods fair and equitable? If not, how can the ESSA state flexibility provisions address these inequities?

To contact your elected officials, click here .
To contact your public school state officials, click here.  
To contact your school district leaders, click here

Previous Questions:

Do State Departments of Education  have the capacity (and political will) to develop high quality state standards, state curriculums, and state assessments? Do they have the capabilities to turn around low performing schools, in a timely manner, (or even to respond to mandated reporting requirements about school funding formulas or how the fair distribution of resources are being addressed) without federal interventions?
Hint: Senator Alexander seems convinced that all states can do the job but recent statistics work against his "off the cuff" statements. Consider this study or this article or this one ----   including:  The State - How Leadership Influences Student Learning  as well as others as you debate this topic.   From the archives,: click here for information on previous information on  turnaround schools