Question(s) for Politicians & School Officials

Who's Interpreting ESSA, (our new national education law) for parents & community members in your state?

Are the practitioners 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 a necessary question to ask in a public school-based context  --- if challenges  to previous or existing norms are to be addressed.) Knowing "who is being asked to lead these discussions and/or to create the agendas for the meetings" --- or merely "asking why a certain organization is deciding how ESSA should be discussed" are steps in the right direction. These questions are important  to ask 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 the CCSSO and/or any school officials make the decisions about who gets to 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 choose the groups that will 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? Have they forgotten that as "public servants" their role, in essence, is to serve children and, in turn, parents and community stakeholders?

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 formula for supporting student achievement will be, a goal that should be a part of each state accountability plan.. As a result, have the state and local school offiicals asked parents and community stakeholders if they want or need anyone speaking on their behalf, especially since the views of parents and community stakeholders often differ, if not clash with the views of state officials, school leaders, teachers’ unions, lobbyists, etc?
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 expect them to mimic or think and say what school representatives want them to say, (a taboo point but one that needs to be discussed since it overlooks U.S. democratic ideals --- or the common good). If groups are chosen then, parents and community stakeholders (rather than school officials) must be the ones doing the choosing. They must be the one who decide what a diverse group of educators or advocates represents and consists of --- and if this group is capable of determining the best solutions for all children.
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 accountability 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 groups eliminated so they can tell who specifically needs targeted interventions --- and school officials, currently, do not? What if parents and community members want and need school ratings in place so they can compare and contrast schools --- 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 governance/teaching analysis rather than ones that simply focus on the school climate or student engagement as educators want? What if they want meaningful timelines that correspond to the educational needs of students rather than educators -- 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  --- a year or two after the fact? Will they want the 95% participation 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? 
With the 2nd, 3rd and 4th questions in mind or why should parents and community stakeholders 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 depended on deficit models ,  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 so many educators call themselves experts (in spite of evidence to the contrary for decades) 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 in comparison to other nations. That the achievement gap is even lower than it was in 1992 means that parents and community stakeholders must keep asking for information from school officials who must conduct public discussions (to better understand if buy-in exists for their overall school communities), produce research supporting the best solutions and provide them with implementation insights and data pertaining to their educational goals, plans and accomplishments.

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 public spaces for discussions focusing on the ESSA provisions with the best interest of all children in mind, including per pupil spending, local budgets and overall state funding. But even then, after the discussions are said and done, they must also find out if the organization doing the training for parents and community stakeholders has a track record of supporting the status quo --- at
the expense of all of the voices of parents and community stakeholders and, of course, public school students who must be heard, too. . .

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 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 (which 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. They should ask for information about 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?

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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.