“Every Student Succeeds Act” From Two Similar But Different Perspectives: DSEA & The Badass Teachers Association

As everyone assuredly knows now, the “Every Student Succeeds Act” passed the US House of Representatives today.  I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this 1,036 page bill and what it means for the future of education in America.  To that effect, I have recently seen two different views on the legislation.  One is from the Delaware State Education Association and the other is from the Badass Teachers Association.  While one waters down some of the concerns I have, the other reached some of the same conclusions I have.

From the DSEA:

Goodbye NCLB, Hello Every Student Succeeds Act
The newest proposed version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act-dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was released on Monday. NEA and DSEA are reviewing each and every line of the 1,000+ page bill ahead of the House vote that is expected by Wednesday evening. We expect a Senate vote next week.
While we continue to review the bill, and how it affects Delaware and Delaware Educators, see below for the basic top lines of the bill, as provided by Ed Week.

ESSA Top Lines

 

The ESSA is in many ways a U-turn from the current, much-maligned version of the ESEA law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

And from the Badass Teachers Association:

States would still have to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and break out the data for whole schools, plus different “subgroups” of students (English-learners, students in special education, racial minorities, those in poverty).
But beyond that, states get wide discretion in setting goals, figuring out just what to hold schools and districts accountable for, and deciding how to intervene in low-performing schools. And while tests still have to be a part of state accountability systems, states must incorporate other factors that get at students’ opportunity to learn, like school-climate and teacher engagement, or access to and success in advanced coursework.
States and districts will have to use locally-developed, evidence-based interventions, though, in the bottom 5 percent of schools and in schools where less than two-thirds of students graduate. States must also flag for districts schools where subgroup students are chronically struggling.
The federal School Improvement Grant program is gone, but there are resources in the bill states can use for school turnarounds.
And, in a big switch from the NCLB waivers, there would be no role for the feds whatsoever in teacher evaluation.

Another Big Switch From NCLB

 

In a win for civil rights groups, the performance of each subgroup of students would have to be measured separately, meaning states could no longer rely solely on so-called supersubgroups. That’s a statistical technique in the waivers that allowed states to combine different categories of students for accountability purposes.
The bill would combine some 50 programs, some of which haven’t been funded in years, into a big giant block grant.
When it comes to accountability, there are definitely some “guardrails,” as one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would say. (More on just what those are below.) But the U.S. Secretary of Education authority is also very limited, especially when it comes to interfering with state decision making on testing, standards, school turnarounds, and more.
It’s still unclear just how the accountability or “guardrails” provisions of the bill vs. limits on secretarial authority dynamic will play out in regulation and implementation. There are definitely provisions in this bill that state and district leaders and civil rights advocates can cite to show that states and schools will have to continue to ensure equity.
But, it could prove tough for the U.S. Department of Education to implement those provisions with a very heavy hand, without at least the threat of lawsuits.
“What can the secretary do and not do? I think that’s where the lawsuits will be,” said Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at Bellwether Education, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama.

Accountability ‘Nitty Gritty’

Plans
: States would still have to submit accountability plans to the Education Department. These new ESSA plans would start in the 2017-18 school year. The names of peer-reviewers would have to be made public. And a state could get a hearing if the department turned down its plan.
Goals:
  • No more expectation that states get all students to proficiency by the 2013-14 school year, as under NCLB Classic. (That ship has sailed, anyway.) And no more menu of goals, largely cooked up by the department, as under the waivers.
  • Instead, states can pick their own goals, both a big long-term goal, and smaller, interim goals. These goals must address: proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, and graduation rates.
  • Goals have to set an expectation that all groups that are furthest behind close gaps in achievement and graduation rates.
What kinds of schools will states have to focus on?
  • States have to identify and intervene in the bottom 5 percent of performers, an idea borrowed from waivers. These schools have to be identified at least once every three years. (That’s something many states already do under waivers. And some, like Massachusetts, do it every single year.)
  • States have to identify and intervene in high schools where the graduation rate is 67 percent or less.
  • States, with districts, have to identify schools where subgroup students are struggling.
What do these accountability systems have to consider? The list of “indicators” is a little different for elementary and middle schools vs. high schools.
Systems for Elementary and Middle Schools:
  • States need to incorporate a jumble of at least four indicators into their accountability systems.
  • That includes three academic indicators: proficiency on state tests, English-language proficiency, plus some other academic factor that can be broken out by subgroup. (That could be growth on state tests, so that states would have a mix of both growth and achievement in their systems, as many already do under waivers.)
  • And, in a big new twist, states must add at least one, additional indicator of a very different kind into the mix. Possibilities include: student engagement, educator engagement, access to and completion of advanced coursework, post-secondary readiness, school climate/safety, or whatever else the state thinks makes sense. Importantly, though, this indicator has to be disaggregated by subgroup. States are already experimenting with these kinds of indicators under the waivers, especially a cadre of districts in California (the CORE districts). Still, this is new territory when it comes to accountability.
  • States also have to somehow figure in participation rates on state tests. (Schools with less than 95 percent participation are supposed to have that included, somehow.) But participation rate is a standalone factor, not a separate indicator on its own. (That’s a clarification from the “framework” or outline of the bill we published earlier. If you’re a super-wonk who cares about this sort of thing, you can read all about how the change developed here.)
Systems for high schools:
  • Basically the same set of indicators, except that graduation rates have to be part of the mix. They take the place of a second academic indicator.
  • So to recap, that means for high schools: proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, graduation rates, plus at least one other indicator that focuses a little more on whether students have the opportunity to learn, or are ready for post-secondary work.
  • And also, test participation has to be incorporated in some way. (But it’s a standalone factor, not a separate indicator like test, grad rates, or those non-academic factors).
How much do each of these indicators have to count? That will be largely up to states, but the academic factors (tests, graduation rates, etc.) have to count “much” more as a group than the indicators that get at students’ opportunity to learn and post-secondary readiness. (This is one of just a handful of important clarifications from the framework. If you’re a true-blue wonk, you can read more on how it developed here.)

How do interventions work?
For the bottom 5 percent of schools and for high schools with really high dropout rates:
  • Districts work with teachers and school staff to come up with an evidence-based plan.
  • States monitor the turnaround effort.
  • If schools continue to founder for years (no more than four) the state is supposed to step in with its own plan. That means a state could take over the school if it wanted, or fire the principal, or turn the school into a charter, just like states do under NCLB waivers now. (But, importantly, unlike under waivers, there aren’t any musts-states get to decide what kind of action to take.)
  • Districts could also allow for public school choice out of seriously low-performing schools, but they have to give priority to the students who need it most.
For schools where subgroups students are struggling:
  • These schools have to come up with an evidence-based plan to help the particular group of students who are falling behind. For example, a school that’s having trouble with students in special education could decide to try out a new curriculum with evidence to back it up and hire a very experienced coach to help train teachers on it.
  • Districts monitor these plans. If the school continues to fall short, the district steps in. The district decides just when that kind of action is necessary, though; there’s no specified timeline in the deal.
  • Importantly, there’s also a provision in the deal calling for a “comprehensive improvement plan.” States and districts have to take more-aggressive action in schools where subgroups are chronically underperforming, despite local interventions. Their performance has to look really bad though, as bad as the performance of students in the bottom 5 percent of schools over time.
What kind of resources are there for these interventions? The School Improvement Grant program, which is funded at around $500 million currently, has been consolidated into the bigger Title I pot, which helps districts educate students in poverty. But states would be able to set aside up to 7 percent of all their Title I funds for school turnarounds, up from 4 percent in current law. (That would give states virtually the same amount of resources for school improvement as they get now, through SIG.) However, the bulk of those dollars would be sent out to districts for “innovation,” which could include turnarounds. It would be up to states whether to send that money out by formula, to everyone, or competitively, as they do now with SIG dollars. (More in this cheat sheet from AASA, the School Administrator’s Association, which has been updated on this issue.) Bottom line: There are resources in the bill for school turnarounds. But some of the money could also be used for other purposes, if that’s what districts and states want.

What about the tests? The testing schedule would be the same as under NCLB. But in a twist, up to seven states could apply to try out local tests, with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education. And importantly, these local tests aren’t supposed to be used forever-the point is for districts to experiment with new forms of assessment (as New Hampshire is doing with performance tasks) that could eventually go statewide and be used by everyone. That way states don’t get stuck with the same old assessment for years on end.

What’s more, the framework allows for the use of local, nationally-recognized tests at the high school level, with state permission. So a district could, in theory, use the SAT or ACT as its high school test, instead of the traditional state exam.
Also, computer adaptive testing would be easier.
What about standards? States must adopt “challenging” academic standards, just like under NCLB Classic. That could be the Common Core State Standards, but it doesn’t have to be. And, as we noted above, the U.S. Secretary of Education is expressly prohibited from forcing or even encouraging states to pick a particular set of standards (including Common Core).
What about that supersubgroup thing mentioned higher up? Supersubgroups are a statistical technique used in the waivers that call for states to combine different groups of students (say, students in special education, English-language learners, and minorities) for accountability purposes. By my reading of the bill, it would seem that’s a no-no. States now have to consider accountability for each subgroup separately. States liked the flexibility of supersubgroups. But former Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and civil rights groups said they masked gaps. The deal appears to eliminate the use of supersubgroups.
How do we transition from NCLB and the waivers to this new system?
  • The bill outlines the transition plan from the Obama administration’s ESEA waivers to this bold new era of accountability. Waivers would appear be null and void on Aug. 1, 2016, but states would still have to continue supporting their lowest-performing schools (aka what the waivers call “priority schools”) and schools with big achievement gaps (aka “focus schools”) until their new ESSA plans kicked in.
  • So it seems that 2016-17 will be the big transition year. It will be partially under the Obama administration, and partially under the new administration.
  • In general, ESSA would apply to any federal grants given out after Oct. 1, 2016, so most grants would still be under the NCLB version of the law for the rest of this school year.

What about the rest of the bill?

English-Language Learners

 

Where does the deal land when it comes to when newly arrived English-language learners must be tested? (Background on this issue here). States would have two choices.
  • Option A: Include English-language learners’ test scores after they have been in the country a year, just like under current law.
  • Option B: During the first year, test scores wouldn’t count towards a school’s rating, but ELLs would need to take both of the assessments, and publicly report the results. (That’s a switch from current law. Right now, they only need to take math in the first year.) In the second year, the state would have to incorporate ELLs’ results for both reading and math, using some measure of growth. And in their third year in the country, the proficiency scores of newly arrived ELLs are treated just like any other students’. (Sound familiar? It’s very similar to the waiver Florida received.)
The compromise would shift accountability for English-language learners from Title III (the English-language acquisition section of the ESEA) to Title I (where everyone else’s accountability is). The idea is to make accountability for those students a priority.

 

Students in Special Education


The legislation says essentially, that only 1 percent of students overall can be given alternative tests. (That’s about 10 percent of students in special education.)

Opt-Outs


The bill largely sticks with the Senate language, which would allow states to create their own testing opt-out laws (as Oregon has). But it would maintain the federal requirement for 95 percent participation in tests. However, unlike under the NCLB law, in which schools with lower-than-95 percent participation rates were automatically seen as failures, local districts and states would get to decide what should happen in schools that miss targets. States would have to take low testing participation into consideration in their accountability systems. Just how to do that would be up to them.

 

On Programs


There’s more consolidation of federal education in the compromise than there was in the Senate bill. For a look at how much money each program is slated to receive, check out this great (and updated!) cheat sheet from the Committee for Education Funding.
  • The legislation creates a $1.6 billion block grant that consolidates a bunch of programs, including some involving physical education, Advanced Placement, school counseling, and education technology. (Some of these programs haven’t federal funding in years.)
  • Districts that get more than $30,000 will have to spend at least 20 percent of their funding on at least one activity that helps students become well-rounded, and another 20 percent on at least one activity that helps kids be safe and healthy. And part of the money could be spent on technology. (But no more than 15 percent can go to technology infrastructure.)
  • Some programs would live on as separate line items, including the 21st Century Community schools program, which pays for after-school programs and has a lot support on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
  • Other survivors: Promise Neighborhoods, and a full-service community schools program. And there’s a standalone program for parent engagement. There are also reservations for Arts Education, gifted education, and Ready to Learn television.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. got the early-childhood investment she wanted-the bill enshrines an existing program “Preschool Development Grants” in law, and focuses it on program coordination, quality, and broadening access to early-childhood education. But the program would be housed at the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Education Department as some Democrats had initially hoped. The Education Department would jointly administer the program, however. (The reason: HHS already has some early-education programs, like Head Start. Expanding the Education Department’s portfolio was a big no-no for conservatives.)

That new research and innovation program that some folks were describing as sort of a next-generation “Investing in Innovation” program made it into the bill. (Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Michael Bennett, D-Colo., are big fans, as is the administration.)

 

On School Choice


No Title I portability: That means that federal funds won’t be able to follow the child to the school of their choice.

But the bill does include a pilot project allowing districts to try out a weighted student funding formula, which would also essentially function as a backpack of funds for kids. The program would allow 50 districts to combine state, local, and federal funds into a single pot that could follow a child to the school of their choice. It is said to be a more workable alternative to Title I portability, which looked more dramatic on paper, but which few states would likely have taken advantage of because of its complexity, experts said. Importantly with this pilot, participation would be entirely up to district officials. And the language would give them a chance to better target funds to individual school needs.

 

Teachers


The headline here is that states would no longer have to do teacher evaluation through student outcomes, as they did under waivers. And NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher” requirement would be officially a thing of the past.
There’s also language allowing for continued spending on the Teacher Incentive Fund-now called the Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program-which provides grants to districts that want to try out performance pay and other teacher-quality improvement measures. And there are resources for helping train teachers on literacy and STEM. Much more from Teacher Beat.

 

Funding and Other Issues


No changes to the Title I funding formula along the lines of what the Senate passed that would steer a greater share of the funds to districts with high concentrations of students in poverty. But there were some changes to the Title II formula (which funds teacher quality) that would be a boon to rural states.

The agreement would keep in place maintenance of effort, a wonky issue we wrote about recently, with some new flexibility added for states. (Quick tutorial: Maintenance of effort basically requires states to keep up their own spending at a particular level in order to tap federal funds.)

There was some chatter that the bill would also incorporate changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. That’s not part of the agreement.

The framework would only “authorize” ESEA for four more years, as opposed to the typical five. That gives lawmakers a chance to revisit the policy under the next president, should they choose to do so. And its overall authorization levels are largely consistent with the most recent budget deal.

And from the Badass Teachers Association:

Here we go…. BATs Respond to Every Student Succeeds Act – please read ENTIRE POST carefully!

Send the BATs Action Network Letter NOW https://actionnetwork.org/…/hear-the-voices-of-the-people-m…

BATs we had a committee of five comb through the over 1000 pages of the ESSA starting on Sunday night. Our committee is exhausted and we want you to know that we read it from the lens of just regular classroom teachers. We also were able to talk and consult with people who were involved in the negotiations of this act as well as former members of the House of Representatives.

The Act came out of conference with a 39-1 vote – we have been told repeatedly that it is a done deal but that does NOT mean we have to roll over and take the act as is. We cannot amend it but we sure can request that some language be removed. We will demand thoughtful debate and for our lawmakers to listen to input from the public. They will not conduct a period of open comment from the public as they had that for a month already before the act hit the Conference Committee. So, make your voice heard through our letter writing campaign here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/hear-the-voices-of-the-people-make-every-student-succeeds-act-about-kids-not-wall-street-and-tech-companies SEND YOUR LETTER NOW!

We know the act will hit the House floor on Thursday and the Senate early next week. Please read the act over as if you have the time.

There is much that is GOOD about the ESSA. It strengthens the education of Native American children. Language in Title VI demands strong cultural components be weaved into their education experience and a need to return teachers of Native heritage back to their communities to teach. It has strong language that will support and assist our homeless children and families. It will require districts to help homeless families find housing and will also require that when homeless children must switch schools they be allowed to enter school immediately. It is an act that also protects our migratory children by demanding they be allowed to enter schools immediately and that pending paperwork cannot hold up their education. The other good thing about the act is that there are few federal mandates. Much in the act will be left up to the states (i.e. teacher evaluations, learning standards, testing). Rest assured the reformers are already mobilizing at the state level to get back what they lost in the ESSA. We must return to our states and understand what we need to work hard for at that level. We must remember that we have upcoming elections in which we need to get our votes in to make the change we want.

Perhaps the best part of the ESSA is that it defangs the USDOE. NY BATs will strongly tell you that we do not want John King in charge of education in this country. Throughout every part of the act you will see the restatement that the USDOE Secretary cannot mandate or control what states do. Common Core is essentially dead! They will try to rebrand it into “state standards” or keep it as the Common Core, but there is no longer a threat of a common standard that all children in the nation must follow. It will be left up to the states to create their own standards (some may keep the CC, some will try to rebrand CC, and some will create their own standards – we must be vigilant in speaking out during this process at the state level). Also, the Booker/Bennett Amendment made it into the final act. This is the work that BATs did with the AFT on teacher workplace conditions. BATs will now influence, and be in, federal education law! The Booker/Bennett Amendment will now require that Title II money be used to study, in general, teacher workplace conditions and how that influences the learning of students. Congrats to our amazing Quality of Workplace Team for their dedication to getting this inserted into federal education law.

The act has some BAD components but nothing came as a surprise. It kept yearly testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. We knew this going into Conference Committee and that the Tester Amendment (which would have introduced grade span testing) did not even make it to discussion. We did not support yearly grade span testing several months ago but instead advocated for random sampling grade span testing. That still holds true! The Conference Committee did not listen to the voice of the public but instead to Civil Rights Groups in the Beltway who advocated for yearly testing and accountability. We are not happy with the 1% cap on alternative assessments for our special education students but we were happy that the act did insert that the IEP team at the local level may decide to pierce the 1% cap in their district, with a valid explanation to be submitted. This in essence will not allow IDEA to be trumped at the local level and if the state does not grant the district a waiver will set them up to be sued by parents for denying a child their rights under IDEA. This will also allow the state to pierce the 1% cap if needed, and if the feds deny the request can set the feds up to be sued for violating IDEA. We were not surprised that the act is “charter friendly” and we will need to remain vigilant at the state level to expose charter fraud, charter abuse, and mismanagement. We knew that if Sen. Alexander was involved that the act would be charter friendly but we also know that many Democrats love their charters! Some new stuff that was inserted in regard to the digital environment and digital learning is concerning. You will see that our letter requests that much of this language be revamped and addresses our concern that we are attempting to make public education into online learning centers. We shared the early results of our technology survey so that lawmakers could see clearly how teachers feel about using technology in their local districts. We should all advocate for Blended Learning which uses a hybrid of technology and student/teacher created learning in the classroom. We made it clear that technology should not outweigh the classroom teacher and that having children sit in front of a computer all day is not public education! We will need to remain very, very vigilant at the state level to make sure the state and local districts are not spending money on technology that cannot be sustained or is inferior. We will need to remain vigilant at the state and local level to make sure that the teaching profession does not become a facilitator of online learning. The good thing is the act DOES NOT MANDATE technology! In fact, there is not much that the feds can mandate in this act! We are concerned with the innovative assessments systems mentioned in the act. We all know what this means and we strongly suggested that language be removed.

->Please call your federal lawmakers and make your voice heard. This act hits the House floor on Thursday and the Senate floor on December 7th. You can use our letter as a guideline if you like. Here are the numbers for federal lawmakers https://www.opencongress.org/people/zipcodelookup

→We must start mobilizing at the state level. We are sure that reformers have a head start on this. They are angry that they lost – evaluating teachers on test scores as a federal mandate, Common Core as a federal mandate, and the digital testing that comes with CC as a federal mandate. They will mobilize at the state level to get all of this back! GET INVOLVED AT THE STATE LEVEL ON THESE ITEMS IN PARTICULAR TODAY!

 →We are all taxpayers and must be vigilant about bankers getting involved in opening and running anything having to do with education. Please be vigilant about charter expansion and fraud. Please be vigilant about what your state and local districts are buying in regard to technology. QUESTION EVERYTHING AT THE STATE LEVEL!

The Difference Between Lily Eskelsen Garcia And Donald Trump

It was brought to my attention today that I blasted the National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia over some recent comments she made in regards to students with disabilities while remaining completely mum on Donald Trump’s mockery of a New York Times reporter with a disability.  This is very true.  As I explained to my friend, I expected more out of the leader of the largest teachers union in the country than Donald Trump.  I expect Donald Trump to say and do stupid things at times that don’t make any logical sense.  But both actions offended not only the disability community but many in America as well.  I was very offended about Trump’s actions.  I also found out about his actions on Thanksgiving Day.  Had it been any other day, I most likely would have written about it, but it was a holiday and the only post I put up was things to be thankful for.  A few days later, I found out about the NEA President’s comments.  This was also immediately after I saw her urging all the teachers in the NEA to contact members of Congress to pass the “Every Student Succeeds Act”, which I do not support.

In the interest of fairness, I do not condone Trump’s actions by any stretch of the imagination.  Even more insulting was the fact that he did not apologize for his actions but rather insisted he doesn’t mock those with disabilities.  Today, The Daily Beast wrote an article about Trump’s history with the Americans With Disabilities Act and it is a very long and egregious list.

In terms of Lily Eskelsen Garcia’s comments, I truly believed along with many others that she used the term “chronically tarded” in a speech, along with the words “medically annoying” in describing things teachers in America have to deal with on a daily basis.  She has since issued a formal apology, via Youtube, explaining she was saying “chronically tardy” and why she used the term “medically annoying”.  She recognized her choice of words in the speech was not the best decision and I respect that immensely.

The difference between two similar actions could not have been more distinct and clear.  One apologized, the other made excuses.  One is redeemed in my eyes, the other is not.  In this very odd and peculiar battle of Lily Eskelsen Garcia vs. Donald Trump, she wins by a landslide!

US House Of Representatives Passes “Every Student Succeeds Act” With 359-64 Vote, Next Stop: US Senate

The “Every Student Succeeds Act” passed the United States House of Representatives today with a vote of 359-64.  The second half of the bill’s journey will take place in the US Senate.  It is anticipated the Senate will vote on the bill next week.  I haven’t even read the entire bill, but I have many issues with various aspects of the bill.  Many of these issues are due to the way Delaware has already utilized many aspects of the bill in a non-transparent fashion.  The Delaware Department of Education is taking drastic steps now in terms of the state accountability system for Delaware schools, and this bill makes it perfectly legal for them to do so.  My thoughts are beginning to shift towards an uneasy acceptance of the legislation versus what we had before with No Child Left Behind, but I will be keeping a very close and cautious eye on how the DOE and Governor Markell could attempt to abuse the state’s powers in this bill.  In a nutshell, I don’t trust them nor do I trust their motivations when it comes to Delaware students.  The lone US House of Representatives member from Delaware, John Carney, voted yes on the bill.

From the House Education and the Workforce Committee:

Kline, Scott Applaud House Passage of
Every Student Succeeds Act
Bipartisan bill replaces No Child Left Behind, improves K-12 education

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) issued the following statements today after the House passed a bipartisan, bicameral bill to replace No Child Left Behind and improve K-12 education. Known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (S. 1177), the bill passed the House by a vote of 359 to 64.

“Today, we helped turn the page on a flawed law and a failed approach to K-12 education,” said Chairman Kline. “But more importantly, we adopted a new approach that will help every child in every school receive a quality education. Parents, teachers, and state and local school leaders support this bill because they know it will restore local control and help get Washington out of our classrooms. I want to thank my Republican and Democratic colleagues, in both the House and Senate, for their work on this important effort. I look forward to the Senate’s consideration of this bipartisan proposal and finally sending a bill to the president’s desk that will provide parents and school leaders the certainty and flexibility they need to deliver children a great education.”

“Today’s bipartisan vote to reauthorize the ESEA affirms the principles of Brown v. Board of Education, which held that ‘it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education,’ and ‘that such an opportunity is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms,’” said Ranking Member Scott. “Fifty years ago, Congress originally passed ESEA to help make that right a reality, and the Every Student Succeeds Act honors the civil rights legacy of that law. Today’s vote is an embodiment of what we can achieve here in Washington – a workable compromise that does not force either side to desert its core beliefs. I commend my colleagues and our staffs for their diligence, and I have no doubt that this bipartisan legislation will make a positive difference in the lives of our nation’s students and live up to all of our ideals.”

To learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act, visit edworkforce.house.gov/k12education.

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15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Jennifer Nagourney

Jennifer Nagourney serves as the Executive Director of the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education.  To say she had a hell of a year would be an understatement!  Nagourney’s role is to oversee the charter schools in Delaware and to make sure they are in compliance on academic, financial, and organizational performance frameworks.  When a charter school has issues, she is one of the main DOE people who determines what type of action to take.  Her office works with all of the other offices in the DOE.

2015 started off with a bang in the form of Family Foundations Academy.  After former Heads of School Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington got caught with their hands in the school finances cookie jar, the Charter School Office put the school under formal review a year ago.  After a whirlwind amount of speculation, the school’s board and leaders was essentially taken over by East Side Charter School.  A few months later, no less than four Delaware charters went on formal review: Academy of Dover, Prestige Academy, Delaware Design-Lab High School, and Freire Charter School.  All came off formal review status but they are all on probation.  Two were new charters scheduled to open in August who received the designation due to low enrollment which affected their financial viability.  Two were for academic reasons, and of those two one was for their former school leader embezzling from the school (Academy of Dover’s Noel Rodriguez).

As the 2014-2015 school year ended, two charters officially closed due to charter revocation decisions by the Delaware State Board of Education.  Moyer and Reach Academy for Girls closed their doors forever, but five more were opening up in August: Delaware Design-Lab High School, Delaware Met, First State Military Academy, Freire Charter School, and Great Oaks Charter School.

Towards the end of September, issues started to rise with one of the new charters, Delaware Met.  After the school was placed on formal review by the State Board in October, the Charter School Accountability Committee voted yesterday for a recommendation of charter revocation at the end of this marking period, in January 2016.

Earlier in the year, with all of the charter movement, as well as the designation of the sixPriority Schools in Christina and Red Clay, the Wilmington Education Advisory Commission recommended a charter moratorium in Wilmington until the state could come up with an action plan for charters in Delaware.  This became legislation in the Spring, and this all morphed into the current Wilmington Education Improvement Commission which is leading a redistricting effort in Wilmington.  While charters don’t make the news a lot coming out of this, they are certainly a part of any plans that come out of the commission.  The State Board of Education will vote on this in January 2016.  Meanwhile, the DOE and the State Board are working on the Statewide Resources for Educational Opportunities in Delaware to determine how all schools in Delaware can best serve their students.

Due to the events at Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, House Bill 186 caused controversy in the Spring.  Introduced by State Rep. Kim Williams , Hosue Bill 186 dealt with how charter schools are audited.  The bill morphed a couple of times into the final bill which passed the House in June and will land in the Senate Education Committee come January.  As well, State Rep. John Kowalko openly and publicly opposed the Charter School Transportation Fund and the Charter School Performance Fund.  Rep. Williams also introduced a bill to make sure if a charter school student transfers mid-year to a traditional public school district, the money would follow the student.  That bill has not even been heard by the House Education Committee, over ten months after its introduction.  I’ve heard rumblings of legislation which would make sure traditional districts send timely information on students that transfer to charters, especially in regards to IEPs and discipline.  Which is fine in theory, but there is a caveat in the potential legislation about the districts paying for the funding if the charters don’t receive that information in a timely fashion.  That will be a bill to watch in 2016 if it garners enough support to become potential legislation.  It will be a lightning rod of controversy between the pro and con charter crowd in Delaware.

All of this charter school activity has certainly kept Nagourney and her staff on their toes at the DOE in Dover.  With a staff of four, this is a great deal of work for this office.  Add in modifications, performance reviews, special education compliance, standardized testing, and leadership changes among the charters in 2015, Nagourney definitely had her busiest year ever at the DOE.  It is no secret I have issues with many concepts behind charter schools as well as the DOE, but I believe the Delaware DOE has come a long way in terms of monitoring the charters and taking action when needed.  This can all be attributed to the leadership of Jennifer Nagourney.  While her name doesn’t get thrown around in the media the way Secretary Godowsky or even Penny Schwinn does, make no mistake that Nagourney is one of the busiest leaders at the DOE.  I am hoping, for her sake, that 2016 does not throw as many challenges her way.  In fact, the Charter School Office is taking another look at how the Organizational part of their charter performance framework is made up and a working group will be starting to make recommendations on this.

Nagourney, in my opinion, is one of the strongest leaders at the Delaware DOE.  This is not an honor I usually give to anyone down there!  At least there is only one charter opening up next year in the form of Delaware STEM Academy.  I am pretty sure the DOE will be watching very carefully at how any new charters use their planning period between approval and opening to make sure a Delaware Met never happens again!  My biggest wish for this office to carefully monitor special education at Delaware charters.  I’m sure that falls under the watch of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE, but I can say with certainty they are missing a lot.  It is not every charter, but it is far too many.  I have tons of issues with special education as a whole in Delaware, but some charters do not even know the most basic fundamental aspects of special education laws.

Underneath all of this is a potential ticking time-bomb in the form of the ACLU and Delaware Community Legal Aid complaint to the Office of Civil Rights a year ago.  This complaint alleged certain charter schools discriminated against minorities and students with disabilities in their application process.  If it becomes a law suit, it would be against the State of Delaware and the Red Clay Consolidated School District who is the only district charter school authorizer in the state.  Information was sent to that office in February this year, but no ruling has come down since.  This could happen at any time.

16 To Watch In 2016: State Rep. David Bentz

Back in September, Democrat David Bentz won in a special election that determined who would take over from the resigning State Rep. Michael Barbieri.  Both candidates ran a clean campaign.  Since he won the election to serve the 18th district of Delaware, Bentz won some plum assignments with the various House committees in the 148th General Assembly.  He will be serving on the Education, Energy, Labor and Natural Resources.  But a big surprise was his assignment as Vice-Chair of the Health and Human Services Committees.  Barbieri served as the Chair of that committee, a role which State Rep. Deb Heffernan will take on.

I am very curious how Bentz will do in the General Assembly.  As a former legislative aide to Barbieri, I’m sure he gained a great deal of insight on the legislative process.  What kind of legislation will he introduce?  How will his votes land in the Education Committee?  If the General Assembly attempts to override Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50, what vote will Bentz cast?  He will definitely be a legislator to watch in the 2nd half of the 148th General Assembly.

In looking at various issues he has written about, I think we can expect to see some definite education, criminal justice, student loan defaults and issues with the homeless in Bentz’s future.  As the only “rookie” legislator introduced this term, I expect a learning curve but I think Bentz will rise to the challenge.  The most important thing for him to do will be to emerge out of Barbieri’s shadow.  He will need to become his own legislator.  Which means I certainly hope he won’t follow in Barbieri’s footsteps on House Bill 50!  I look forward to seeing what the “rookie” does during his first, albeit shortened, term.

An Open Letter To Governor Jack Markell

I have tried to stay on the sidelines in the Syrian refugee crisis.  It is a deep concern of mine in many aspects.  My reasons for not publicly commenting on this are very simple.  I don’t want my readers to get sidetracked from education issues I write about.  The extremes on this issue among Delaware citizens is very apparent.  I have seen people de-friend others on Facebook because they don’t agree with their point of view.  There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground on these issues.  I see very Liberal citizens completely blasting Democrat politicians because they don’t agree with Governor Markell or President Obama.  I see those on the far right continue to trash those who seek equity in our society.

The plain and simple fact is this: there is a very huge population of people in this world who have no choice but to leave their country for fear of their very lives.  This is the reality.  Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of that and come to other countries to perpetuate terror.  We saw it in Boston and Paris in recent years.  When do the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many?  When does the safety and concern for a country’s current citizens become more paramount than those who are not even having their basic needs met?  This is the crux of these issues.  Both sides have valid points that warrant further discussion.  What drives me crazy is the polarizing effect this has on social media.  I see this with gay marriage and abortion as well.  I cringe when I see very blatant and racist comments when the News Journal posts anything directly related to race on Facebook.

In matters of education, I fully understand I am extremely polarizing on certain issues.  I have never de-friended someone on Facebook though if they don’t agree with my opinion.  I will argue it until the cows come home, but I won’t shut them out.  As a society, we have become very quick to draw that line in the sand.

With that being said, I am taking a stand on the refugee crisis.  I do not think Americans should be put in harms way for the sake of individuals from another country.  While I realize there is more chance of a plane crash happening than a terrorist attack on US soil, the implications and consequences of another event would be long-term and damaging.  I don’t believe the US Government can say with 100% certainty that the vetting process is reliable.  While there is a chance, I can’t support accepting refugees from Syria.  This will tick off many who believe I am a Progressive Liberal.  If anything I am a Progressive Conservative Independent Republican Democrat.  It really depends on the issues.  In a nutshell, I am in the middle.  On this issue, I don’t think the risk of American lives being lost and disrupted is worth it.  9/11 haunted me for many years.  To this day, I always cry on the anniversary.  I didn’t lose anyone that day, but it felt like America was ripped apart and we lost something that day.  It was our sense of safety and security.

Today I received an email as I do every day from various groups and organizations on both sides of the fence on numerous issues.  Upon reading the below letter, I felt it best exemplified my thoughts and concerns with the refugee crisis.  I am posting it here because it is an important issue and a well written letter that best shows where I stand on this issue.  This does not mean I agree with every single aspect of the groups who signed onto this letter.  But on this issue, I stand with their opinions.  I do not think it is a racism or discrimination issue but rather a safety issue.  There is a very clear distinction between the two.

An Open Letter to Governor Jack Markell,
 
In a unified and sincere concern for the safety and economic health of Delaware’s families, we urge you to reconsider your position to relocate “Syrian refugees” into Delaware communities. We ask that you join the 30 other state governors in placing the safety and reasonable concern of your constituents above any other consideration or agenda.  
 
We all share your compassion for those who are suffering and want those who truly need refuge to get it. Like you, we recognize that true Syrian refugees need a safe harbor. That safe harbor is best found in Middle Eastern countries near their homeland beyond the reach of the present violence. The first and most immediate safe place in the region meets their need for safety. Their need is not tax payer supplied housing and EBT cards in Dover, Newark or Seaford, in a culture completely foreign to their Islamic worldview, and 6000 miles from their known way of life. 
 
We know from the recent European experience that “Syrian refugees” comprise people from a dozen or so countries from Morocco to Afghanistan. Claims in Washington of a robust vetting procedure prior to entry to US are not credible. The FBI has reportedly said it is impossible to vet that many people before they come into our country.  Representative Carney and Senator Coons have both expressed their concerns in light of this information.
 
We are equally concerned that your support for President Obama’s planned action reflects a disconnect from those you serve in Delaware. Delaware families are being profoundly impacted by limited resources including a lack of care for our veterans, also a concern of yours. Heroin use is at an epidemic level in our state and destroying families and communities daily. Wilmington continues to suffer from uncontrolled crime and there is a growing racial discontent.  We still face inequalities and deficiencies in our state’s education system that may likely place added burdens on the state’s budget. The people of Delaware just cannot afford the cost, financial and otherwise, of your plan to add to those needing assistance in our state. 
 
You will recall the Tsarnaev family; taken in by the state of Massachusetts under condition of asylum.  The cost to the taxpayer of their direct and indirect benefits exceeded one million dollars. No one in that family ever became self-sufficient or safely acclimated in the U.S.
 
As you know the two sons of that family killed 3 innocent people with a homemade bomb at the Boston Marathon. Over 200 other innocent people were seriously wounded in the blast.  After years in this country they acted with deadly violence as they believed their faith dictates. 
 
Finally, the Tsarnaev family was fully and completely vetted by our Federal immigration authorities as applicants of asylum. 
 
Ultimately, this “compassionate gesture” is estimated to cost the state over 100 million dollars. This cost extended beyond the social benefits taken by the family. It ultimately included, police operations and manhunt, emergency care for the survivors, hospitalization of the wounded, reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and prostheses needs, business disruption, criminal investigation, state prosecution and public defender costs, and forward projected prison costs; all paid by Massachusetts tax payers.
 
We are faced with new and uncertain dangers that can only increase as we neglect to control those who gain access to our country.  We ask that you block state funding of any sort that would be needed and allocated to resettle this population in Delaware.  Importing persons from a vastly different culture and trying to integrate them is exorbitantly expensive and the unpredictable results can be devastating.
 
Our groups collectively represent many thousands of Delawareans who are passionate, engaged, and aware of the realities of recent events in this world conducted by a few Islamic radicals.  As Governor, your heaviest burden and first concern must be for the safety and common well-being of the people in Delaware.  We ask that you recognize the proven risk associated with similar relocation programs. We further request that you use your authority, in the best interest and public safety of Delaware families and communities, to obstruct President Obama’s ill-considered relocation plan. 
 
Respectfully,
912 Delaware Patriots
Faith and Freedom Coalition Delaware
Central Delaware NAACP
Rev. Dr. Shawn Greener
Frederick Douglass Foundation of Delaware – Sussex County
Institute on the Constitution

Joint Finance Committee To Do A Top-Down Look At DOE Organization & Salaries This Morning

The Joint Finance Committee of the Delaware 148th General Assembly is meeting today for their Winter Meeting.

Orientation on the Department of Education Compensation System and Organizational Structure • Programmatic review of the Department of Education’s operating budget • Presentation by Secretary Godowsky on DOE employees/titles/salaries/duties and measures of employee effectiveness. The Joint Finance Committee may hold an executive session closed to the public for the purpose of discussing personnel matters in which the names, competency, and abilities of individual employees are discussed under 29 Del. C. § 10004(b)(9).

While meetings like this are not unusual each year, this one will have added weight to it this year due to events that have occurred in the past few months.

The Race To The Top employee positions that were supposed to be eliminated when the program expired remain at the DOE.  Another section of the state budget for the DOE was carved out for these eight positions.  When State Rep. John Kowalko found out about this he was furious, as were many other state legislators.

This is Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky’s first presentation of this sort to the Joint Finance Committee.  Last week he presented the DOE’s proposed budget where he asked for an increase of $87 million dollars.  The Joint Finance Committee will assuredly have many probing questions about the DOE’s intent and purpose for those funds.

Secretary Godowsky was confirmed by the Delaware Senate in October.  The week before he assured Delawareans that “harsh opt-out penalties” wouldn’t rule the day on the state’s new school accountability system.  He reversed that decision in record time ticking off many legislators, parents, teachers, administrators, and citizens in the process.

Following in Mark Murphy’s footsteps has to be a daunting task, but Godowsky’s continued proclamations of communicating better and improving the perception of the DOE has been built on empty promises thus far.  In a recent poll conducted by this blog, almost 35% viewed Godowsky’s first 60 days as okay.  Over 53% did not approve of his actions in his first 60 days.  Only 11% saw him doing a great job. While this is not an accurate assessment of Godowsky due to the nature of the readers on this blog, it does give an indication of overall dissatisfaction in his abilities as Secretary of Education.

Update to TC readers on my filed FOIA complaints