The more I look into education on a federal level, the more I think it is not just parents who are bullied and intimidated, but also each state Department of Education. For the past week, I have been closely examining the “school report card” fiasco in Delaware. Dubbed the “Delaware School Success Framework”, this is a new accountability system for public schools in Delaware. The controversy around it has centered around a participation rate penalty which the Delaware Department of Education said was a “non-negotiable” and “required” item on the framework. While this is still being investigated by this blog and others at this point, and what the DOE said and did at different pints in time, it is becoming obvious US DOE “mandates” can be non-regulatory but said in a way it could be easily perceived as threatening or intimidating.
The participation rate is the percentage of children who take the state assessment, which in Delaware’s case is the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The rule is that it can’t go below the 95% mark, otherwise there would be penalties. For years, everyone assumed this was a cut in federal funding, which has never happened. But as I review Delaware and other state’s 2015 ESEA Flexibility Waivers, I’m finding some states are choosing the participation rate penalty in lieu of checking the area off where they would receive cuts in funding. If the feds have never done this before, when many schools have clearly gone way below the 95% mark, why would they be harping on this now?
When states like New York, New Jersey and Washington had very high opt-out rates statewide, this drew a lot more attention to the issue. States like Delaware and Oregon had opt-out legislation passed by their legislators. In Oregon, the Governor signed it. In Delaware, the Governor vetoed the bill. But opt-out will continue, and probably in larger numbers this school year. This is not a train that can be stopped.
Other mandates by the US DOE, such as the labeling of Title I schools as priority or focus, seem to be closely watched and monitored by the feds. These schools labels are all based on the proficiency ratings from the state assessments, which is very dangerous. High poverty schools can not be compared to regular schools whose students are not within the same sub-groups. It is a system designed specifically to measure up or close. The very term “sub-group” would indicate these students are below others. I watched the Delaware DOE stumble through this last year, and I was privy to internal and external emails surrounding this debacle through released FOIA material. The whole process is so convoluted it would take a Mensa genius to figure it all out.
Who in Delaware will stand up to the Feds once and for all for the sake of our children? If you are banking on Governor Markell, I don’t see that happening. Will the interim Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Godowsky, step up? And how will the upcoming ESEA reauthorization impact all of this? And will President Obama even sign the bill if Congress gets together and successfully combines both versions of the legislation? The next few months will be very interesting for education.