When ESSA Advisory Committee Members Attack!

I’ve given a ton of public comments in the past two and a half years.  100?  200?  I can’t keep track.  Tonight, I got yelled at for my public comment.  By a member of the Delaware ESSA Advisory Committee.  It got ugly.  I’m not one to just let someone yell at me like that.

A member of the committee asked the Delaware Dept. of Education how much the committee’s input really means.  She asked the DOE, on a scale of 1-10, how much that input means.  It was a very fair and valid question.  I have seen the woman before.  Maria Matos.  I knew she was on a charter school board and involved with the Latin American Community Center in Wilmington.  But I have never had a conversation with her.  I don’t think she has ever said hello to me or if I’ve been in a position to introduce myself.  I meet a lot of people in Delaware education.  I tend to disagree with many, but I make it a point to show respect face to face.  In a public meeting, there is an understood rule that you don’t devolve to a level of hostility.  Have I always subscribed to that rule?  No, I haven’t.

At a State Board of Education meeting in July of 2015, the Governor had just vetoed House Bill 50.  I had to hear former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy talk about it and how it was a good thing.  He was going on and on about it.  Was he rubbing my face in it?  Perhaps.  I yelled from the back something about how wrong they were and stormed out.  Not a moment I was proud of.  Even though I didn’t agree with what they were saying, I felt bad about it.  I emailed the entire board and Mark Murphy and apologized for my behavior.  I did tell the entire Christina board I was going to FOIA them one night, but I did raise my hand to speak and they allowed me to speak.  So that doesn’t really count.  I’ve yelled at Mark Murphy a couple of times and Senator David Sokola once at Legislative Hall during the House Bill 50 opt out days when the bill was still in play.  But I digress.

So tonight, Karen Field-Rogers with the Delaware DOE responds to Ms. Matos’ question.  She tells her this committee, the ESSA Advisory Committee, has deeper connections with education and she said they would have about 80% input on the Delaware ESSA state plan which will be submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Education.  That led to a whole other conversation about federal control, state control, and local control.  The time came for public comment.  I had something all typed out and ready to go, but upon hearing Field-Rogers response to Matos, I felt the need to ad lib my comment.

I basically said it was very disheartening to hear that this group was given an 8 out of 10 priority for input on the plan.  It felt like the ESSA Discussion Groups and the Community Conversation Groups were all of a sudden less important, that their voice didn’t matter as much.  That was the bulk of my public comment, short and sweet.  There has already been a huge question in the air about if the Delaware DOE already has the plan written and the stakeholder input is being used for show.  At the very least, the kind of questions the DOE are asking participants in any ESSA meeting are very narrow in scope.  Many questions are asked in such a way that someone answering could only give answers that would lean toward pre-conceived notions of what the DOE may put in the final plan.  The fact that the ESSA Advisory Committee was given six different questions tonight, one for each table, and the DOE representative at each table gave the report of each group’s discussion shows far too much DOE control than I am comfortable with.  And those DOE reps will be writing reports to the DOE based on how they interpret the findings of each group.

Usually, public comment ends and the group adjourns and everyone goes home.  But not tonight.  Matos yells at me.  She yells that the DOE just said it was an 8.  I went to respond and she continued.  I asked her why she was yelling at me and let her know I didn’t even know her.  She continued to yell about the same thing.  I told her this was public comment and she needed to step off.  I literally said those words.  She said something about not stepping up, but at the point the moderator intervened and adjourned the meeting.  Usually I stick around and say goodbye to folks, but not tonight.  I was pretty hot and I knew staying in that room would not be a wise idea.  I wish Matos would have used that same restraint a few minutes earlier…

So Ms. Matos, allow me to introduce myself.  I’m the member of the public you yelled at tonight.  And I will tell you straight up, that doesn’t fly with me.  You want to disagree with me, that’s fine.  People disagree with me all the time.  You want to yell at me after a public meeting or in the parking lot, have at it.  But you will not disrespect me in front of an audience with something you didn’t even hear right to begin with.  Maybe people allow you to do that at other meetings, but when someone gives a public comment at a public meeting, you respect that.  I’m sure you have done many wonderful things for Delaware education.  But that does not make you better than me or gives you the justification to do that.   I don’t care how many boards or committees you may be on.  And just because you are on the “8” committee, doesn’t mean your voice weighs more than anyone else.

One final thought Ms. Matos, if you have to ask the question about how much stakeholder input in matters of education with the Delaware DOE count, you’ve probably already answered your own question.

Live From Legislative Hall: The Delaware ESSA Advisory Committee Meeting

The meeting is about to start.  A facilitator introduced himself.  Didn’t hear his name.  Secretary Godowsky is talking about how the ESSA Adv. Comm. came about (Executive Order #62).  Stakeholder input is important.  Goal is to submit plan by March, 2017.  Thanking everyone for being on the committee.  Secretary Godowsky just told the group Delaware schools grew by 1,100 students this year.  Appo Super Matt Burrows (the chair) is talking now.  Some late members of the committee are forced to sit against the walls cause they don’t have enough chairs to go around the table.

Rollcall: Tony Allen, Atnre Alleyne, Alex Palaono, Matt Burrows, Catherine Hnt, Nancy Labanda, Madeleine Bayard, LaShanda Wooten, Laurissa Schutt, Kim Williams, Nelia Dolan, Stephanie De Witt, David Sokola, Rodman Ward, Eileen DeGregoriis, Wendee Bull, Barbara Rutt, Leolga Wright, Cheryl Carey, Susan Bunting, Deb Stevens, Tammi Croce, Patrick Callahan, Janine Clark, and Genesis Johnson.  Other people in attendance are as follows.  DOE: Michael Watson, Karen Field-Rogers, Secretary Godowsky, Angeline Rivello, DSEA: Kirsten Dwyer.  Caesar Rodney teachers Laurie Howard and Natalie Ganc.

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams reacted to a statement from the facilitator.  She wanted clarification on who is writing the ESSA state plan.  The Delaware DOE is.  The Adv. Comm. will give recommendations.  Tony Allen asked about the due dates for the plan.  The facilitator told him there are two due dates, March 31st and July 31st.  Delaware chose March 31st because it takes the US DOE 120 days to approve it and they want to get it going by the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

Alex Nook with the Penn Hill Group is giving a presentation on ESSA.  He is familiar with federal education law.  ESSA gives states more leeway but still has accountability and so forth.  Now he is talking about Title I.  He asked if anyone in the room doesn’t know what Title I is.  No one raised their hand (thank God).  States are still required to set long-term goals for academic achievement.  Unlike No Child Left Behind, 100% of kids don’t have to be proficient.  ESSA gives states flexibility.  What kind of accountability system should we have.  What works for some schools and what do we need to do for struggling schools.  The requirement for turnaround schools but if they want mo money they have to do something for those schools.  English Language learners have more focus in ESSA.  English proficiency for these students is now a requirement in federal education law.  But states determine the timeline for this.  Kim Williams asked if this means we won’t fire principals and teachers in turnaround schools.  Nook said not federally required.  Atnre Alleyne asked what the percentage of Title I funds have to go to struggling schools.  Nook said 7%.  Alleyne asked how much fed money Delaware is getting.  Karen Field-Rogers said she would find out.

Nook said Title II funds are for teachers and professional development.  $2 billion nationally, every school district gets a portion of them.  Congress felt school leaders weren’t getting enough federal dollars so they allowed states to set aside 3% of funds to ensure leaders get prof. development as well.  The rest of the fed money goes to schools and districts for teachers and prof. development.

Another pot of money is Title IV funds.  This is a new program.  They are consolidating this into a Student Supports and Academic Enrichment Grant.  The former funds didn’t work well so this is a larger flexible program.  Money is more for what a school district or charter school needs.  This is figured out at the local level and not through Congress.  Congress hasn’t approved a final amount for this.  Obama Administration, Congress, and the Senate are all floating different numbers.  There is no existing funding mechanism for this.  21st Century Learning Program will continue.  Charter School program will continue: $ for start-ups, help, resources for charters.

Nook is answering questions.  DeGregoriis asked for more info on the charter school funding.  Alleyne asked about highly qualified teachers and state equity plans.  Congress wrote definition, according to Nook, of what a highly qualified teacher was under NCLB.  Congress decided that should not be a requirement of the law.  Now all teachers must meet state certification plans, so whatever Delaware says, that is it.  With the equity plan, a carryover from NCLB, disadvantaged kids can’t be taught by ineffective and inexperienced teachers.  That was the plan for why Obama and Congress created the equity plan.  These plans weren’t in statute before and the next administration will have more say on what happens with that.  Class-size waivers will still be allowed.  That can be done through Title II.  Kim Williams asked about requirements for a teacher to teach in a classroom.  Nook said highly qualified teachers are done but the states handle requirements for this.  LaShonda Wooten said highly qualified teachers have to take a test to be highly qualified.  So before the feds mandated this, now the states do.

Now Nook is talking about the dreaded R word… regulations.  Regulations make sure rules don’t go against the will of Congress for the intent of the law.  US DOE put out regulations for accountability and assessments  (even though many members of Congress are against John King’s massive overreach on this).  These are proposed regulations and the public comment period closed.  The accountability regulations had over 21,000 public comments (one was mine, LOL).  Regulations say states must have tests available in second most commonly spoken language in the state.  Delaware’s plans will hinge on the final form of these regulations so our plans could change.  This is one of the reasons why Delaware wants to submit their plans in March.  Nook is anticipating the final regulatory package in late November/early December.  There will also be an application package put out by US DOE.  Deb Stevens asked if the regulations will be ironed out for the states that submit their plans in early March.  Nook said it will be very difficult for US DOE to adhere to those due dates if the regulations aren’t set in stone.  Nook said he has faith in US Secretary of Education John King to make sure this is done.  Stevens asked about giving states more time for the 17-18 school year if things aren’t set in stone.  Would Delaware get that flexibility?  Nook believes US DOE would be open to that but nothing is written on paper.  He understands you don’t want to risk Title I dollars over this kind of stuff.

Nook said the accountability system has to have five different standards, including English Language learner proficiency.  The fifth category is picked by the states.  Nook said Delaware has an advantage because we already have a multi-level accountability system.  Seven states are “competency-based” pilot states.  Delaware will have to decide what they want to do (hell to the no on Delaware going competency-based- editor’s note).  Nook said the Presidential election will have a huge impact on everything.  Whether it is Trump or Clinton there might be change.  A new Secretary could change due dates from March to April or change regulatory matters.  They may advocate for different funding for programs.

DeGregoriis asked what the benefit is for Delaware submitting their plan early with all these what ifs… Nook said the benefit is being in better shape for budgetary decisions.  It sounds like Delaware wants input.  Secretary Godowsky said the March due date is a goal.  But it could change given all the moving targets.  Godowsky said we are making a good effort.  Kim Williams asked how we are going to get the new Delaware administration’s input as well.  That is her concern with a March due date.  She said we could have a new Secretary of Education.  Godowsky said they WILL have a new Secretary of Education.  He feels if there is a lot of change with the plan, there could be due date changes.

Stevens asked Nook to explain supplement vs. supplant.  He defines it as federal dollars are supposed to supplement and not replace systems.  Federal dollars need to be on top of a state or local set of resources.  There is contention in Congress over this, and a new regulation is out there and public comment is still open until early November.  Congress feels Title I should be a more equalized state and local amount of funding.  The US DOE is moving forward on the regulations to give districts options on how to even out funding.  Stevens explained she understands it could affect local staffing in Title I schools.  Tony Allen asked if this is dollar for dollar or equitable funding.  Nook said the US DOE is giving districts four options to choose from.  (Note to self: look into this one a lot more).

Alleyne asked if this will kick the can down the road more for struggling schools.  Nook said Delaware chose to freeze schools for this year that would have gone under the SIG program like previous years.  Nook is done.  Five minute break.

Break is over.  Karen Field-Rogers is talking about what the DOE has done already.  She is explaining how they had stakeholder consultation groups they meet with on an already continual basis throughout the year.  They have held four community conversations in Dover, Georgetown, Middletown, and Wilmington.  There are two discussion groups: School Success and Reporting AND Student and School Supports.  They have also had a survey open on their website and they have had over 400 submissions already.  The DOE wants a first draft of the plan by the end of this month.  They just announced the new Community Conversations.  There will be gaps in the first draft.  The DOE wants comments.  It is not a complete plan at all.  They also want to have the first draft so the new Governor-elect will be able to provide input.  DOE wants to submit second draft of the plan by the end of the year.  Susan Bunting asked if the public will be able to comment online for the drafts.  DOE is talking to their lawyers about that.  (What? Why?).  There were over 100 nominations for the discussion groups.  They worked w/organizations like DSEA to pick those members.  Only 54 were chosen (27 for each group).  Alleyne asked if the representation on the different groups represented the diversity of the state.  Field-Rogers believes they have.  She said they were very careful about this.  She said in Wilmington they partnered with the Christina Cultural Arts Center and there was a block party afterwards.  Williams asked what the purpose of the Community Conversations were?  Field-Rogers said it is to help guide the DOE with their plan.  All the discussion group minutes are on the DOE website (or on Exceptional Delaware- editor’s note).  The DOE is in the process of “synthesizing” all the responses to the surveys and will be releasing that information soon.

Facilitator is going over piece of paper handed out to everyone.  Asking questions: what is the most important thing that Delaware should accomplish for its schools through its ESSA Plan?  What three areas are you most interested in reviewing?  The five groups are Supporting Excellent Educations for All Students, Challenging Academic Standards and Assessments, Measures of School Success and Public Reporting, School Support and Improvement, and Supporting All Students.  He is giving the group five minutes to fill out the sheet.  Then the group will caucus in four to five groups.  One person in the group will be a facilitator for each group and will report out to the whole group.

Groups are done meeting.  I was chatting with the Laverne and Shirley of Delaware education most of the time.  Atnre Alleyne is talking for his group.  A big focus of his group was educator equity and accountability.  Who is accountable when gaps in the system happen?  What happens when people leave the state and more gaps continue?  Next group, Laurissa Schutt said their group talked about the timing of the group.  As well, they talked about academic supports and how much local discretion there will be.  Wendee Bull is talking for the third group: how to still have the rigor we have now, to make sure districts still have accountability to uphold that rigor.  The facilitator said ESSA doesn’t totally give up federal oversight of accountability but gives more leeway.  It will be determined how much of that flexibility will occur and it will be a balancing act.  Patrick Callihan represented the last group.  He agreed with Atnre.  In order to get there we need a fair and balanced system.  Start to change the stigma of how schools are being guided.  The feds don’t know a lot about what is going on in Delaware.