Questionable contract?

If you want to volunteer for our Citizens Contract Oversight Committee, or have a tip to share, please email us at NYCschoolcontractwatch@gmail.com

Friday, July 15, 2016

Deborah Meier on the controversy about the principal at Central Park East 1

Deborah Meier, founder of Central Park East, sent this letter this morning about the ongoing controversy about the principal at CPE 1.  More on this here.  CPE parents demanding the ouster of the principal have a website here.

Dear friends,

I am frequently asked about the situation at Central Park East I that has recently made the news.  Which side am I on, I’m asked.

I’m unequivocally on the side of those who wisely have concluded that the current principal must move on.  She cannot do the job required.  Bringing in someone to “help” her where she is weak is not a solution, but merely a postponing of the inevitable drift into more “standardized”  practice and a more hierarchical school structure.

What is needed is an interim solution that helps pull the school together, hire new staff, set the tone and continue to improve the practices and approach that has marked CPE I’s 43 year history. 

These include: staff governance, choice for families and staff, strong parental voice and advice, substantial teacher autonomy to develop curriculum,  no admissions requirements re academic or social “fitness”, dedicated to serving predominantly low-income students of color, and the belief that a good open, progressive school should be able to serve all children together without separating them by so-called ability—by tracking in any form including social or racial indicators.   CPE I’s form of progressivism was, on the spectrum, perhaps more inclined to emphasizing “play”—self-initiated cognitive activity--which often includes physical movement, as well as choice, sustained periods for uninterrupted work, peer collaboration, and demonstration versus standardized testing.  Work and Play share common purposes and are, in fact,  hard to distinguish.  Play is at the heart of serious intellectual work, and observation provides teachers with the best means of support for further growth which rests, in professional jargon, in something called self “agency”.

CPE was dedicated to the task of creating a democratic community of citizens with different roles to play--students playing the role of citizens-to-be in some areas and equal citizens in others.  It was based on substantial time set aside for children and their families to meet with their teachers, and open access to classrooms by family members. 

It was also based on an agreement between the staff to meet together several hours a week, mostly during the school day as well as before and after the school year—plus a planning meeting for the fulltime professional staff in mid winter.  If the faculty was responsible for the school’s work it needed time to effectively play such a role—on matters great and small.  

For 32 years this process worked—serving largely District 4 families, plus a very small number of District 5 and others.  We had a commitment not to seek a waiting list!  When we had more applicants than spaces the District agreed to start other schools that worked together with us and had a single application process--thus CPE II and River East.  The teacher-directors (and later principals) of these schools were almost always former teachers in the same or similar schools.

We were just three out of what became a District of 50 small schools during that same period, all with far more autonomy than generally found in urban public schools—including the neighborhood schools (only one was closed due to low enrollment in the district) and the new schools of choice. 

A few years after we opened the District asked us to add white students to help the District to gain access to Federal integration funds—and to increase District enrollment.  We liked the idea and set a kind of informal quota so that we’d still remain predominately for low income minority students.  (Before that it was first come, first serve.) 

When Jane Andrias left as principal in the early 2000s no one on the staff was prepared to take the job.   Over the next 10 yeas, CPE I had 5 different principals, only one of whom had a professional background in any form of progressive education. During this period the school was largely held together by the commitment of its staff and the activism of its devoted families.  It often faltered in terms of cohesion, shared time, and support for new teachers.  In some ways, while classrooms continued to attract positive attention from parents, university educators and scholars, it lacked what a lead-teacher/principal (the former was the original conception) could do best.  It remained the school I happily sent colleagues to visit—including those from Mission Hill which I started in Boston. 

But this fall, after the last short-lived principal retired, it was clear that the newly appointed principal had no background knowledge or experience with elementary, early childhood and/or progressive education, much less functioning in the tradition of collective decision-making and belief that all children—not just privileged children—were well-served by our kind of pedagogy.  We had data that proved it had worked for more than 30 years—why all of a sudden was this kind of school not sustainable by a principal who believed in such practices.   Rather than wait to critique, the newly appointed principal almost immediately began to make changes in the way the school had practiced open, progressive education.  

Many decisions were made without consulting staff from day One through Yesterday—on matters that have always been the purview of faculty and parents.   Some of it was unavoidable given the circumstances but the practice continued even where emergencies didn’t require it.  It was clear by word and action that the principal believed that she was the boss, the first and final authority.  It appeared also, that she saw the kind of play that CPE always engaged in as frivolous and that the flexibility the school was accustomed to re rules and regs were  henceforth taboo (we had followed our former Superintendent’s advice to practice “creative compliance”.)  Above all she made clear that “some” children needed a very different kind of education than the school was accustomed to providing—i.e, Black and low-income children;  in short, the very children we had historically served.

For reasons mostly out of the school’s control--the changed demographics of East and Central Harlem (gentrification) and CPE’s disengagement from District Four during the Bloomberg reorganization--the school’s demographics gradually changed during the past ten years.  It became a school with a minority of low income children, although still substantially racially integrated in a city with few such integrated schools. If  one included bi-racial families as students of color CPE has remained about 60% Black, Brown and bi-racial and 40% white and Asian.   (About 2/3 of the families of color have signed the petition asking for the removal of the current principal)

To rectify the loss of low-income children the elected parent representatives  made efforts to apply for the new Chancellor’s admissions initiative that would enable CPE to set aside spaces for low-income children.  The new principal was uninterested.  Thus while other progressive schools have applied in order to help them be more economically integrated CPE I has not.   Unsurprisingly, by following the “rules” the latest lottery-based PreK will be almost entirely white and mostly District 4.

All our early dreams seemed to me unachievable if the mission we began with continued to be undermined—by misinformation or open disagreement. We lasted through many superintendents in District 4 and even more city-wide regimens for a very long time.  I tended to despair as I learned more about the situation—including conversations with the new principal and the district superintendent.   But committed parents and staff kept “pestering” me and I realized I could not avoid my responsibility to them.  I had to take a stand.

We need to find a solution that is fair to the latest principal, who might well be fine in a different setting she is more in tune with, to those parents who agree with her, while also providing the majority of the community with the leadership that will enable the CPE we put so much of our hearts into to be restored.   We need to embrace the spirit of democracy that CPE I was intended to demonstrate but which requires an unusual collegial form of leadership to restore, .

That’s where I stand.

Deborah Meier
Founding teacher-director of Central Park East

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My disappointment with the amended Democratic platform: "group mentoring" instead of class size reduction?

There has been much discussion of the recent amendments made to the Democratic platform.  See the video below of delegates including Pennsylvania attorney Chuck Pascal , Troy LaRaviere, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT, and others proposing and approving changes to the original, highly flawed document

Clearly there have been substantial improvements, pointing out the destructive impact of high-stakes testing, particularly on students of color and the schools they attend, proposing that parents have the right to opt out testing, and describing  the destabilizing influence from the unchecked rapid expansion of charters.  See Valerie Strauss on the amendments, as well as a transcript of the discussion that occurred here.  

Some of the language seems to have been influenced by the petition to the Democratic Party posted by the Network for Public Education Action.  (Full disclosure:  I'm on the board of NPE.)  Corporate reformers including  Peter Cunningham, former press secretary to Arne Duncan,  and Shavar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform expressed predictable outrage.

At the same time, public school teachers and bloggers like Peter Greene pointed out that the platform only opposes for-profit charters, even as the distinction between for-profit and non-profit charters is often hazy, as non-profits can contract with for-profit operations to run their schools.  See also this excellent Pro Publica report for more on this issue.

And although the amended platform specifically calls for charter schools to be obligated to "reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools" this has been the law in New York since 2010 -- without any real attempt to enforce it.


Democrats on Charters and Testing from Schoolhouse Live on Vimeo.


There are other  aspects of the platform that I find disappointing still. It contains a proposal to fund group mentoring, which is described as a "low-cost, high-yield investment that offers the benefit of building a supportive network of peers who push one another towards success….".

I have checked the research on group mentoring, which is thin indeed.   One report looked at the benefits of group or peer mentoring, published in 2002.  The concept is described as following: "volunteers who interact regularly with small groups of youth can fulfill the role of a mentor —to be a trusted counselor or guide—by developing a number of successful and productive relationships simultaneously. In this way, these programs can provide mentors to large numbers of youth without depleting scarce volunteer resources." 

The study looked at three small programs, in LA, Erie County NY and Kansas City, and found that from self-reports, participants spoke of improvements in social skills, relationships with individuals outside of the group and to a lesser extent academic performance and attitudes.  Yet there were no controls or attempt to quantify improvements. The study concluded that "Perhaps the most important issue to explore is whether these youth- and mentor-reported benefits  translate into observable effects. ...outcome studies need to be conducted before we can conclude that group mentoring programs are, in fact, effective."  

A meta-analysis of several group mentoring programs showed mixed results; one large scale controlled study in 2009 found that mentoring did not lead to statistically significant impacts in any way  --so much so that the Department of Education proposed eliminating funding for mentoring from the federal budget for Fiscal Year 2010.

This is not to say that group mentoring is not a model worth pursuing.  But for the platform to focus on this specifically as a "low-cost, high-yield investment" when the evidence base is so weak is unfortunate.  Yes, group mentoring is comparatively cheap, but the "yield" is uncertain at best.

Compare this to how class size reduction was completely omitted in the platform- one of the few proven reforms shown to narrow the achievement/opportunity gap, and to improve student outcomes in a whole host of ways, including boosting achievement, morale, graduation rates, non-cognitive skills, and lowering the number of disciplinary problems.  Moreover, lowering class size has been estimated at producing economic benefits twice the cost, and is strongly supported by parents and working teachers.  See the Class Size Matters research page or this new fact sheet from the National Education Policy Center for evidence.  Why was it neglected in the platform? 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

List of NYC schools with elevated lead levels; and follow-up questions for DOE

Update:  Beth Fertig of WNYC/Schoolbook writes today that the DOE says "At every location where elevated levels persisted after a second test, the city said it turned off the source of the water and then started making repairs or replacing the fixtures."  

The Mayoral spokesperson seems to imply something different, saying that "In the rare instance of any elevated sample, [emphasis mine] relevant fixtures and piping are replaced to the wall, and retested out of an extreme abundance of caution."   This would imply that all 509 schools with elevated samples will be, not just the 153 in which the lead levels remained elevated after flushing, but Beth emailed me that she believes that they were speaking of only the 153 schools.   In addition, as I noted belowVirginia Tech lead expert, Marc Edwards was quoted as now recommending a minimum of testing every three years - as opposed to the DOE's five year testing cycle.  So three of my questions below remain unanswered.

Ben Chapman of the Daily News wrote about the latest on NYC school water today here. It turns out that when all schools were finally tested, 509 had elevated levels of lead in at least the first sample; though in most of these schools, the levels diminished after flushing the pipes. 

It appears that 153 schools still had elevated lead on the second draw -- after sorting the list of NYC schools with elevated lead samples here .  The worst off seem to be PS 14 in D24 in Queens, with 12 elevated samples in the first draw, and 7 in the second; and PS 127 in D30 with 10 elevated samples in the first draw and 6 in the second. But check to see if your child's school is on the list.

What is good is that they say they are testing all schools now, including those built since the 1980's, contrary to DOE's original intention.  Until the Flint lead controversy occurred, the vast majority of NYC schools hadn't been tested for lead in over ten years, as pointed out by Schoolbook on March 29 -- contrary to the NY Times article which claimed a few days earlier that "All schools’ water is regularly tested."  

The DOE now says that every school will be retested for lead every five years; which runs contrary to the recommendations of the Virginia Tech lead expert, Marc Edwards, who exposed the Flint water tragedy, and recommends annual testing for lead -- at least in all schools built before 1986.   

The below DOE press release claims that "Our protocol exceeds EPA protective guidance and involves regular flushing or fixture replacement." Actually EPA guidance calls for flushing as a short term measure, and replacements of fixtures or pipes as a permanent remedy. The DOE press release below begs the following questions:
  • In which schools is the DOE going to replace the pipes and/or fixtures?
  • What oversight will be used to ensure that regular flushing will occur in the rest of schools?
  • Should parents be concerned about the ten years or more in which there was lead in the water in these schools and no flushing?
  • Should parents have their children tested for lead who attended these schools?  
Let's hope someone in the media asks DOE these questions.  


FACT SHEET: LEAD TESTING IN NYC SCHOOLS' WATER SUPPLY


NYC WATER OF HIGHEST QUALITY, WITH EXTENSIVE MEASURES MEETING OR EXCEEDING ALL EPA RECOMMENDATIONS TO PROTECT STUDENTS AND FACULTY

Less than 1 Percent of Final Test Results for NYC Schools Tested Positive for Lead

This latest round of testing from the DOE, in partnership with DOHMH and the EPA, reaffirms that our efforts are highly effective at keeping the water in our schools safe. Of the 112,584 samples taken, only 1.0% were found to have elevated levels that exceeded EPA guidelines on the first draw (the first water out of the tap, which would include stagnant water); just 0.19% of samples were positive second draw samples. 

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has invested more than $10 billion over the last decade to maintain and improve NYC's water supply infrastructure; DEP also tests the city's water over 500,000 times each year at various points throughout the system. Between 2008 and 2010, DEP worked with the Department of Education (DOE) and other City agencies to identify and remove lead service lines to schools and other municipal buildings.

This year, DOE has tested the water in every public school building, regardless of whether it was built before or after the lead ban in the 1980s.

Since 2002, any building that has had even one outlet (e.g., a sink or a fountain) with levels that exceeded EPA guidance has been put on an extensive DOHMH protocol based on EPA recommendations, which includes some combination of equipment replacement, weekly flushing, and more to ensure the safety of students and staff.

The protocol is proven to protect students and faculty for two key reasons:

·         The vast majority of elevated levels are found on first draw. Weekly flushing on Monday mornings or after school vacations - the only times at which water has been sitting in the pipes for those extended periods - is proven to quickly eliminate any elevated levels and ensure the water students and faculty drink is safe.

·         Positive tests on second draw- after water has been running-are rare. If they do happen, they can almost always be linked to a specific piece of equipment which is immediately removed, repaired, or, in rare cases of bathroom sinks, designated as a handwashing only (no drinking) station.

"Families can rest assured that water in school buildings is of the highest quality and is safe for students and staff to drink," said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. "Schools are following the aggressive flushing and remediation protocols that the DOE has had in place for years, and we continue to update families and school staff throughout the process."

"New York City's tap water is of the highest quality, and not a source of lead poisoning," said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. "Parents should be assured by the joint efforts of our two agencies to increase transparency and accountability. Elevated lead test results in water are most often attributable to older internal plumbing and fixtures. When that occurs, schools sites implement corrective measures to reduce lead levels. Our protocol exceeds EPA protective guidance and involves regular flushing or fixture replacement. Flushing removes any built up lead in stagnant water."

This latest round of testing once again reaffirms that our protocols are protective and effective. NYC Water is of the highest quality, with extensive measures in place that meet or exceed all federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations - measures that did not exist in other cities around the country that are now facing concerns about lead.

In fact, the number of children in New York City with lead poisoning has declined 80 percent since 2002; and in 2015, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) referred, based on blood lead test results, just 45 of the 1.1 million public school children in NYC to the DOE for investigation. In all 45 cases, EPA-certified consultants and the City examined every classroom and home and took appropriate action as needed; there were no cases in which water was determined to be the source of elevated lead levels.

Results for individual schools can be found on a first-of-its-kind web portal that allows families and faculty members to track the results of the lead testing and protection measures that have been in place in public schools since 2002. Final test results are immediately shared with families and posted on the DOE's website. Letters backpacked home to families with details regarding the results are available in nine languages, as requested by school staff, and principals are available to address any questions that may arise. In the rare occurrence that a school has elevated results, families receive a second letter with updates once remediation and follow-up testing are completed.

DOE, in partnership with DOHMH, will continue to test schools based on DOHMH and EPA recommendations - in fact exceeding the frequency of testing recommended in the EPA's guidance. For the limited number of buildings that had even one outlet above recommended levels in a previous test, this includes continued implementation of the DOHMH protocol and regular retesting thereafter - with three-draw samples taken within six months or one year of the initial tests to continue to confirm the effectiveness of flushing, and regular retesting every two years thereafter. Schools that have not tested positive for elevated levels will still be retested every five years. Schools with construction that could disturb, vibrate, or shift plumbing and/or fixture will be immediately retested. The City is also offering free guidance and testing to private nonpublic schools.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

New nationwide poll shows parents find standardized tests of little value

High Achievement NY put out a press release trumpeting a new poll from Achieve -- both organizations funded by the Gates Foundation to promote the Common Core and testing.  Though the poll did find that parents are concerned that their children may not be sufficiently prepared for college and career, there is little to show that the Common Core standards and more testing leads to better preparation. 

The results of the poll itself is interesting and shows growing discontent with the testing regime.

See this slide, revealing that 13% of parents opted their children out of standardized tests last year.


Despite lower rates overall than upper-income suburban Moms (their words, not mine) African-America and  Hispanic Moms intend to opt their children out in greater numbers next year -- with the number of African-American mothers nearly doubling.



Also, respondents give a variety of reasons for opposing standardized testing, with 49% saying the exams do a poor job capturing their children's true abilities, and 48% say that the exams yield no positive benefits to children taking the exam. Especially interesting is that 53% of African American  Moms say their children are subjected to too many tests. 

 Altogether, these responses must be very discouraging to Gates et. al. which has spent millions of dollars funding organizations and media outlets to spread the message that parents who opt out of Common Core exams are selfish, mean-spirited and misguided.



Monday, June 27, 2016

Primer on Purchasing Methods Employed by DOE

The purpose of this post is to provide some explanation of how NYC public school contracts are presented to the Panel for Educational Policy for approval. 
  
To secure internal DOE and PEP approval, the DOE prepares a document summarizing the contract called a Request for Authorization (RA).  The RA includes basic facts about the contract: vendor, contact info, term, funding source, estimated amount, whether the contract is retroactive, as well as a description of the purpose and a discussion.  Negative findings about the vendor reported through the City's VENDEX system or other sources are included in the discussion. 

The RAs for each PEP meeting are packaged up in a single large pdf file and published online.  

While the documents are mostly self-explanatory, the different procurement methods warrant some explanation:
  • competitive sealed bidding (RFB)
  • request for proposals (RFP)
  • multiple task award contracts (MTAC) 
  • listing application
  • expedited competitive solicitation;
  • sole source goods procurement
  • negotiated services 
  • emergency purchases
  • simplified procurement
  • purchases through government contracts
  • demonstration projects for innovative products, approaches, or technologies;
  • innovative procurement methods; 
  • government-to-government purchases
  • consultant contracts with individuals
Here's a brief explanation of the major types sourced from the full policy document with some editing for readability:  (For more information see the purchasing policy and procedures defined by the DOE and approved by the Panel for Educational Policy)

Competitive Sealed Bid (RFB)

Competitive sealed bidding is the preferred method of procurement where specifications can be made sufficiently detailed and exact to permit award of a contract to a responsive and responsible bidder solely on the basis of price, except where award on the basis of best value is in the DOE’s best interests as provided for in Section 3-02(o)(1)(ii) of the procurement policy.


Request for Proposal (RFP): 

The Request for Proposals (RFP) method should be utilized when it is not possible to fully detail the scope of work to be provided, and when it is necessary to evaluate proposals on a number of factors including experience, staffing, suitability for needs and quality of vendor, in addition to price. Contracts are awarded to the vendors whose proposals are determined to be the most advantageous to the DOE. 



Multiple Task Award Contract Process (MTAC):

A contract specifying specific services at set prices distinguished by: (1) multiple vendors are awarded contracts for the same or similar services; (2) the contract does not specify a quantity of services or, where applicable, a location or specific recipient of the services to be provided (instead the solicitation or contract may indicate, for example, that students in certain grades are targeted recipients); and (3) usage of the contract is through a streamlined process for placing orders for the performance of tasks during the period of the contract. MTAC’s are awarded where there is a demand for a service among multiple schools/offices, it is necessary to contract with multiple vendors to meet the demand, and it is efficient to offer schools/offices a choice of service providers at specified unit prices and a streamlined ordering process. 

Because the final decisions on how much of an item to buy and from which vendor included in an MTAC is the prerogative of schools or departments within DOE, the estimated amounts provided on the RAs are based on prior years of purchasing and anticipated volume for new vendors.

Listing Application

A listing application is used to purchase content provided directly to students, materials that are available only from the publisher, artistic performances, and admission to programs offered by cultural institutions. 

It may also be established for: (1) presentations or workshops where the cost is incidental to the entire expense of the contract and which are specifically geared to explain the methodology of a specific published/copyrighted item, or (2) admission to a cultural institution program that includes workshops or presentations where the cost is incidental to the entire expense of the contract and which are considered teaching tools that will enhance the use of the original materials, performances or programs purchased.

These materials and services are considered unique as they can not be purchased
by open, competitive means. 

Similar to MTAC, amounts on listing applications are estimated.


Expedited Competitive Solicitation

Expedited competitive solicitation may be utilized when time constraints require procuring the services of a vendor quickly and use of another source selection method would not be practicable and/or feasible. Under such circumstances, if there is a reasonable belief that competition exists in the marketplace, an expedited competitive solicitation process may be employed. 


Sole Source Goods Procurement

Sole source goods procurement shall be used for the purchase of goods when there is only one source through which the goods can be purchased and when no other product is available in the marketplace that meets the same or substantially similar requirements of form, function and utility. Sole source  contracts for goods may include installation, maintenance or other services associated with the proper use or operation of the goods where it is beneficial to the DOE to include such services in the contract. The price, terms and conditions shall be achieved through negotiation between the DOE and the vendor. 


Negotiated Services

Negotiated Services shall be used when other methods of procurement are not practical or possible and it is in the best interest of the DOE to procure services under the circumstances specified herein. The award of a contract shall be based upon a combination of cost, quality and efficiency. 


Emergency Purchases

An emergency condition is an unforeseen danger to life, safety, property, or a necessary service. The existence of such a condition creates a need for goods, services or construction that cannot be met through normal procurement methods. An emergency procurement shall be limited to the procurement of those items necessary to avoid or mitigate danger to life, safety, property, or a necessary service.


Simplified Procurement

Simplified procurement is a streamlined method of competitive procurement for purchases less that $15,000. Public notice of solicitation and award, vendor protests, and written notice to the low bidder or offeror of non-responsiveness shall is not required.  Written requirements and competitive bids are still required.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Please help us stop John King's "test and punish" ESSA regulations

John King, now US Education Secretary, is up to his old tricks and is trying to eliminate all the flexibility that Congress intended the new law called ESSA to achieve.  He instead wants to require that states punish schools with high opt out numbers and to impose a single grade on all schools-- which NYC wisely moved away from.  Other problems with the proposed regs are below. 

Please take a minute to leave a comment on the US ED Gov site on these proposed regs by using the NPE suggestions below -- and click on the link to send a letter to your members of Congress; if you can, try to edit the letter a bit so it doesn't register as spam.   thanks! 



We urge you to take a stand against the proposed regulations drafted by U.S. Secretary of Education John King for implementing the accountability provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Although the intent of ESSA was to put an end to the “test and punish” regime of NCLB and give more flexibility to the states, in some ways the draft regulations are even more punitive and prescriptive than under NCLB.

For example, although ESSA permits states to pass laws allowing parents to opt their children out of taking the state tests, the draft regulations would require states to harshly punish or label as failing, schools in which more than 5% of students opt out.

The regulations would also require that every public school in the country receive a single grade--based primarily on test scores and other strictly academic factors -- even though the law properly leaves it up to the states to devise their own grading systems within certain limits. This would impose simplistic and damaging school grades that have already been found defective in many states and districts across the country.


In short, these proposed regulations would micro-manage the ability of states to create their own accountability systems, and take away the opportunity for parents and educators to have a real voice in their school accountability system.

It is imperative that we push back now while there is still time to change course. We need you to do two things as soon as you can:

1.     Please cut and paste the comments below the line into the area for comments on the US Department of Education website, which you will find by clicking here – or revise them according to your liking.

2.     Complete our Action Alert and send a letter to your own representatives urging them to block these destructive regulations. We make it easy to do! Just click here.

It is critically important that you take the time to try to improve these regulations, before it’s too late – and stand up for our public schools and students.

Although the comment period is open until August 1, we ask that you take action as soon as possible and preferably by Tuesday, June 29 because the Senate is questioning Sec. King on Wednesday. Thanks for your help!
Carol Burris, Executive Director of NPE
___________________________________________________________
Please cut and paste the text below here, or revise if you prefer.
 
I oppose the following proposed regulations as contrary to the language and spirit of ESSA and because they will impose damaging and overly prescriptive mandates on our public schools.
In each case, the US Department of Education is foisting its own preferences while tying the hands of states, districts, parents, and educators to devise their own accountability systems, as ESSA was supposed to encourage. Specifically:

1. Draft regulation 200.15: This would force states to intervene aggressively and/or fail schools in which more than 5% of students chose not to take the state tests. This violates the provision in ESSA recognizing “a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments”


Recommendation: This regulation should be deleted. States should be able to exercise their right to determine what measures should be taken if students opt out, free of federal intrusion.

2. Draft regulation 200.13
The law requires states to create a growth score as an indicator for elementary and middle schools. Secretary King has inserted “based on the reading/language arts and mathematics assessments” into the regulation. This would prevent states from creating their own measures of student learning across the curriculum, based on factors other than standardized test scores.

Recommendation: The language “based on the reading/language arts and mathematics assessments” should be deleted from the regulation so that states have the freedom to devise their own measures of student growth.


3. Draft regulation 200.14

The law requires that there be four accountability indicators. The fourth is a school quality indicator that is not based on test scores or graduation rates. States have the freedom to include school climate data, parent engagement, or other factors related to school quality. The proposed regulation insists that such measures prove by research how they are linked to achievement or graduation rates, therefore restricting what states can include.

Recommendation: This regulation should be amended by allowing states to encourage improvements in school climate, safety, engagement, or other factors that may or may not be directly linked to academic achievement, but are important in their own right.


4. Draft regulation 200.17

Proposed 200.17 would require that the test scores and graduation rates of any subgroup (such as students with an IEP or disadvantaged students) of at least 30 students be measured for accountability purposes. Both NCLB and the ESSA leave the decision of minimum subgroup size for the states to decide. The regulations argue that group size of 30 is sufficient to provide a fair and reliable rating, but this claim has no basis in research. It should be noted that with a group size of 30, even 2 absent students will push the school below the 95% participation requirement.

Recommendation:

The minimum group size should be decided by states, as the law requires, after consultation with researchers, given the high-stakes consequences for schools.

5. Draft regulation 200.18
This would require that each school receive a single “summative” grade or rating, derived from combining at least three of the four indicators used to assess its performance.  Yet imposing a single grade on schools has been shown in states and districts across the nation to be overly simplistic, unreliable and unfair, and is nowhere mentioned in the law. This is why it has been severely criticized in Florida, for example, and why NYC has moved away from such a system. The proposed regulations go further and forbid states from boosting a school’s rating if it has made substantial improvement on the 4th or non-academic category.

By doing so, the US Department of Education is again undermining the right of each state to determine its own rating system, and whether it chooses to provide a full or narrow picture of school performance.


 Recommendation: DoE should allow states to retain the authority given to them by ESSA to create their own rating systems, and to determine their own weighting of various factors. The federal government should be prevented from requiring that schools be labelled with a single grade, just because that happens to be its own policy preference.