We need to choose a middle school for our son. How do we make an informed decision?

We need to choose a middle school for our son. How do we make an informed decision?

In the Seattle area, choice is a privilege that not all families benefit from. Economic privilege is inextricably linked to school choice — school performance (as measured by assessment scores) correlates to median household income, so higher-performing schools tend to be in the higher-income areas of the city. And since school assignment is typically determined by area of residence, for those families with limited financial resources, the ability to choose a school that works for their children may be nonexistent.

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Here's the real reason people oppose charter schools in Washington State

Here's the real reason people oppose charter schools in Washington State

Yet again, charter schools and the principle of school choice prevailed this week in Washington’s courts.

Great, wonderful, fine, etc. This is important, but at the same time, we’ve had this conversation before. It’s time to dig deeper.

Why has all this been happening? Moving beyond talking points and rhetoric, why have people and organizations really been fighting charter schools so vehemently?

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Seattle Public Schools have announced three finalists for Superintendent. Who will you choose?

Seattle Public Schools have announced three finalists for Superintendent. Who will you choose?

People say the superintendent has limited power or limited impact, but in Seattle, strength in this position is our greatest hope for the kind of transformational change our kids deserve.

We need a strong superintendent in Seattle because we need someone who will commit to and force an unpopular agenda through, if necessary — even in the face of pushback.

Desegregation was quite unpopular among white parents back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Seattle today is just brimming with white parents — we are one of the whitest major cities in the nation, in fact. Equity efforts will be unpopular here and now, too. We have to expect that and prepare to rise above it.

Real change is hard and uncomfortable, and yet it’s what we need. So, we need a leader who will press on through through that difficulty and discomfort — even through outright disapproval and unpopularity — to do what needs to be done. We need that strength from our leader because we can’t rely on the general population of Seattle to have the vision to demand and make such changes right now.

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Test results show Washington is making 'little progress' toward closing gaps

Test results show Washington is making 'little progress' toward closing gaps

The results of last spring’s Smarter Balanced tests are in, and Washington State’s students scored almost exactly the same as they had the year before on the standardized math and language arts tests.

Paige Cornwell dug into the uninspiring results recently for the Seattle Times. The only areas of statewide improvement over the previous year were sixth- and seventh-grade math, and seventh grade reading, which had the largest gain at 1.6 percent.

That’s it.

“What jumps out are the persistent achievement gaps and the fact that little progress is being made,” state superintendent Chris Reykdal said, “and it’s not enough.”

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Chris Reykdal wants to engage ‘our diverse community,’ so he scheduled a webinar

You’ve probably heard this story before. A folksy, man-of-the-people politician has a decision to make, and he needs to know what his constituents think about the matter. He needs to tap into the wisdom of the people so that his policies can “reflect the needs of our diverse community.”

So, the politician (in this case, let’s call him Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal) rolls up his sleeves and meets the people where they’re at, right? He needs to hear from us -- the people! -- so Reykdal reaches out and connects with us on our terms, not his. He listens without making assumptions.

He… schedules a series of informational webinars!

Gosh, Chris. As always, you really get me.

With Washington’s ESSA accountability plan due to the feds in September, Reykdal’s office has scheduled four webinars in August to share details, recent revisions, and ways to give feedback on the plan. I’ve already had to drink an extra cup of coffee just thinking about trying to stay awake through it.

But seriously, this is all real. That line about “reflecting the needs of our diverse community” is taken right from Reykdal’s recent press release announcing these webinars. The stated goal is to get some feedback from people like me and you on our state’s new education plan -- a federal requirement.

If Reykdal is actually listening, here’s what I want him to hear about me and my community:

If you’re not willing to turn things on their head, you can’t solve our problems. The opportunity gap didn’t just arise a few years ago. People of color have always been oppressed in this country, and that has always played out in our education system as well. If you think a few tweaks are all it will take to set our schools on a different path, we disagree. We need you to be bold, or else to sleep at night knowing that your time in this office is coming at the expense of our kids.

OSPI (the state superintendent’s office) will officially release the revised plan on Aug. 7, opening up a 30-day public comment period. They will ask for comment and approval from Gov. Jay Inslee, the state legislature and the state board of education at that time as well. All this feedback will be compiled for Reykdal to review before submission, who promises in the press release to “use our new flexibility to support all students and address gaps for students that have been historically underserved by our education system.”

Nice. But as always, they don’t tell us how they’re going to do it. They just tell us how they’re going to pay for it. So, Washington’s plan describes methods of financial support for struggling students and schools, but it does not outline significant practical changes that can be expected to actually help close our state’s opportunity gap, which is one of the worst in the nation.

That’s going to take bold, drastic, at-times-unpopular changes. Real, concrete changes involving new policies, expectations and repercussions. Instead, we’re getting a lot of people sincerely agreeing that we should close the opportunity gap, then shaking hands and moving on with business as usual.

Reykdal shared his vision for our schools earlier this month, and it was similarly vague when it comes to equity, acknowledging our gaps and our systemic discrimination without offering tangible solutions.

For what it’s worth, just about every state seems to be struggling with this same issue. Still, I question just how effectively Reykdal’s office is truly engaging stakeholders, because that’s where these answers can be found. A group of Seattle educators and NAACP members, for example, offered a “concrete plan to close intolerable opportunity gaps” in Seattle Public Schools just a couple days ago. The Campaign for Student Success has authored a detailed plan for equitable school funding in the state. Organic, community-based ideas and leadership are not in short supply. They’re just not always recognized.

The 30-day comment period that will open up in August is our last chance to impact the plan that will guide our schools into the next decade.

Registration information for the four webinars:

• Tuesday, August 15, 4–6 p.m. (register)

• Saturday, August 19, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. (register)

• Wednesday, August 23, 5–7 p.m. (register)

• Wednesday, August 30, 6–8 p.m. (register)

 

 

 

 

Chris Reykdal's vision for our schools is blurry at best

Have you read Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s “K-12 Education Vision and McCleary Framework?”

It’s an 11-page document that Reykdal describes as a “long-term” (six-year) plan for “transformational change” to Washington’s public schools.

But instead of outlining true change, I’m finding Reykdal pays lip service to closing the opportunity gap, using it like a buzzword without sharing any concrete plans to impact it except to reallocate money. He proposes tracking students toward different post-secondary options starting in 8th grade with no safeguards against the discrimination these practices will create in districts struggling to overcome racial bias. He talks of “system redesign” and “fundamental change,” but the crux of Reykdal’s “fundamental change” is to literally add more of the same by lengthening the existing school day, lengthening the existing school year, and offering universal preschool access.

Neal Morton of the Seattle Times summed up Reykdal’s six main proposed changes as:

  1. Provide preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.
  2. Add 20 days to elementary and middle-school calendars, and make their school day 30-60 minutes longer.
  3. Start teaching students a second language in kindergarten.
  4. Pay for all high-school students to earn college credit before graduation — and no longer require them to pass state tests to get a diploma.
  5. Create post-high schools plans for every eighth-grader before they enter the ninth grade.
And, of course, 6: Finally resolve the landmark McCleary school-funding case — and Reykdal has some ideas about how to do that.

 

Let’s start with what I appreciate about Reykdal’s vision.

Universal preschool access is an excellent idea. Especially as Reykdal is guaranteeing access as opposed to making preschool compulsory, he would truly be giving families more choice and more affordable options. I like that.

I also like the idea of teaching a second language starting in kindergarten, and Reykdal says without saying it that the language taught would be Spanish. I wonder how that might play out, but it’s a nice idea, no doubt.

And to his credit, Reykdal’s first paragraph is his most inspiring, so his vision starts strong:

The goal of Washington’s public education system is to prepare every student who walks through our school doors for post-secondary aspirations, careers, and life. To do so, we must embrace an approach to education that encompasses the whole child. In the ongoing struggle to amply fund our schools, we have lost this larger vision. The challenge to amply fund schools to the satisfaction of the State Supreme Court is not the final goal – it is merely the first step in a much larger transformation that will propel Washington state’s K-12 public schools atop the national conversation in quality, outcomes, and equity. In our state’s history we have engaged in this transformative work only a few times. This is a once-in-a-generation moment to redesign our public schools to achieve our highest ideals.

 This could be the beginning of everything I’m looking for: preparing students not just for college/career but for life, embracing a whole-child approach, declaring equity to be a pillar, recognizing that McCleary is just a distraction, and acknowledging that transformational change is needed.

But instead of backing this up, it’s mostly milquetoast and money from here on out.

Reykdal considers a McCleary fix to be “the first step in a much larger transformation that will propel Washington state’s K-12 public schools atop the national conversation in quality, outcomes, and equity.” Unfortunately, it’s not often that more money is applied to an inequitable situation with greater equity as the result.

Meanwhile, throughout the document, Reykdal mentions the “opportunity gap” once. He mentions the “achievement gap” once. Here is the only concrete change Reykdal suggests toward closing these gaps, and it’s all about money:

“State-funded turnaround dollars should focus on the schools who experience large performance gaps and multiple gaps across several student demographics.”

So, basically, the monies will flow toward the students we’re failing from a demographic standpoint instead of more broadly to their low-performing schools. That seems good, but again, not an answer — or even anything particularly new. Just a slightly different method of distributing dollars.

I guess that’s not surprising. Reykdal’s vision for the future of education does not include community engagement. He gives no indication that OSPI will be listening to anyone but itself, or that he will be actively soliciting feedback from the students and families most impacted by systemic oppression. He even says as much about his current process: “In thinking about what this might look like, talking to experts, and researching what makes our students successful, I’ve put together this plan.”

He thought about it, he talked to “experts,” and he did research. He did not listen, apparently, to any actual students or families. Then he, a white male politician, wrote this plan to guide our schools from now until my eight-year-old is in eighth grade.

As a result, Reykdal is able to offer only the administrative perspective, and he never mentions any of the many innovative practices being shown nationally to impact opportunity gaps. In his “truly bold thinking,” as he calls it, culturally responsive teaching or ethnic studies never occur to him. He makes no mention of implicit bias testing for teachers, let alone training, or of diversity training for any staff. No mention of bringing more teachers of color into classrooms or of setting high standards for all students.

Instead, he talks about doubling down financially on a public school system we already know is broken, and about tracking kids in eighth grade based on standardized tests we already know produce inequitable results: “In the 8th grade, use the multiple state and local assessments to develop a High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP) for every student.”

A world exists where this could work out, but in a state like ours plagued by racial and socio-economic inequity in education, this will be executed inequitably. Unless we first provide intense DEI and implicit-bias training for all teachers, counselors and administrators, this will only amplify the disparate outcomes Reykdal claims to want to erase.

Even in the best-case scenario, it creates a culture where low expectations are allowed for some kids and not others. The kids are all capable. Yet Reykdal proposes to limit their future opportunities based on their past. That’s hardly cutting-edge.

My sense throughout last year’s campaign was that Reykdal was more interested in being a politician, in eventually being able to take credit for having fixed McCleary and fully funded our schools, and this vision of Reykdal’s seems to fit that profile.

He closes with this:

“We are in a highly competitive global economy and that means gleaning the best practices from around the world in our redesign. Success looks like a longer school day, a longer school year, substantially better compensation for our educators and support staff, and a completely new approach to developing globally successful students.”

That’s what success looks like? Based on what?

Is Reykdal really saying he’ll consider this a success if our kids spend more time in school, and the adults are better paid? Because he has not suggested anything resembling "a completely new approach" to education.

Shouldn't success look like empowering kids to grow faster and achieve more in school and in life? Shouldn't it be teachers that feel valued and push themselves to get better and better? You can lengthen the school days, but it doesn't guarantee students will learn more. You can raise teacher salaries, but it doesn't guarantee they'll teach better. Reykdal’s definition of success strikes me as one that doesn't move the needle. It’s certainly one that doesn’t take any risks.

How can we expect to close the opportunity gap without giving any kids any new opportunities? More instruction hours and more days in class will only produce more of the same if things haven’t fundamentally changed, and despite the number of times Reykdal tells us everything will be fundamentally different, his vision for the future is just more of the same, too.

That’s not good enough. Not when the status quo is already leaving so many kids high and dry.

 

OSPI's plan for collecting school data lacks transparency and urgency

We can all pretty much agree that parents deserve to know how well their child’s school is doing. We can also agree, I think, that parents should be getting that information in a timely fashion. I mean, it wouldn’t do me much good to get my son’s second-grade report card when he’s in fifth grade.

That’s basically what OSPI is planning to do, though, so maybe I’m assuming too much thinking we all agree on the importance of timely information about schools.

Under Washington’s new ESSA plan, the state will measure graduation rates, how many students are reading and doing math on grade level, how well students are growing academically (even if they’re not yet on grade level), and other important stuff.

They’ll use all of this to give schools a report card based on a three-year average. Unfortunately, Washington will only ask schools to report every three years.

In other words, in some years, parents would have access only to school ratings based on information that’s between three and six years old. Taking a three-year average makes sense — it can be misleading to judge the hard work of teaching kids by such a small sample size as a single year. But not recalibrating that three-year average every year is a disservice to parents and others seeking to have timely information about what’s happening in Washington schools.

Take my son’s school, Emerson Elementary in South Seattle, as an example. We will have a new principal in the fall, and when Dr. Erin Rasmussen officially replaces the outgoing Dr. Andrea Drake next month, she will be the school’s fourth principal in the last four years.

So, if I’m a parent looking for more information about Emerson under Washington’s new ESSA plan, I might be looking at a rating based on data collected four principals ago.

Of course, it’s not exactly a straightforward process trying to learn about school quality as it is.

Emerson Elementary School Student Demographics

Emerson Elementary School Student Demographics

GreatSchools.org rates Emerson a 2 out of 10 and seems to consider the school to be subpar by almost every conceivable metric except diversity, which, to the site’s credit, they do explain as being a genuine strength.

Thurgood Marshall Elementary, as another example, is also a public elementary school in Seattle, but it’s an option school, which means students can enroll from anywhere in the district and typically whitens up the student demographics. Thurgood in particular commonly draws students from the south end looking for a choice beyond their neighborhood school.

Thurgood Marshall Elementary School Student Demographics

Thurgood Marshall Elementary School Student Demographics

Great Schools gives Thurgood Marshall a 10 out of 10 rating. The test scores look good, and it’s a fairly diverse school, even if white students do outnumber any other individual racial/ethnic group by more than 2:1. So, it must be better than Emerson, right?

As clear cut as Great Schools would make it seem, they aren’t sharing the full picture either. Take this article from last year from the Seattle Globalist, whose second paragraph poses a simple question you wouldn’t have known to ask from looking at Thurgood’s perfect rating: “Why are the classrooms inside Thurgood Marshall so segregated?”

So, then I’m back at square one. I obviously don’t want my son, himself a student of color, attending a school that is systematically discriminatory. But I obviously don’t want my curious, intelligent, expressive, creative son going to a school that can’t challenge him academically, either.

As always, I have more questions than answers. One thing is clear, though: it’s almost impossible to make a fully informed decision with our current school rating and accountability systems.

We need that to change, and moving to a data collection plan that only checks in every three years is not a step forward. If parents are going to gain timely access to truly relevant information about their schools, it will happen by monitoring this process of developing a new ESSA plan and demanding more equitable schools and more thorough, transparent reporting processes.

Keep tabs on the ESSA transition with the superintendent's 'official' blog and newsletter

In case you haven’t seen it yet, the school superintendent’s office in Washington State (OSPI) rolled out a new blog and newsletter devoted to keeping us updated on ESSA proceedings.

This is a great development for parents and communities across our state. OSPI picked a nice forum for this in Medium, and Ben King is breaking down a complicated issue and a long process into small chunks. He’ll have an important role to play in helping us hold the state accountable throughout this process, and I appreciate that our office of public instruction has taken the initiative on establishing this point of contact.

King wrote last week about how the Federal Programs team had sorted and classified its 500-plus pages of public input on ESSA. I would love to know which suggestions will be adopted and to see especially those considered not to be feasible.

This week, King posted OSPI's first animated ESSA flyer "to help Washingtonians understand the changes coming to our schools as we transition away from No Child Left Behind."

 

 

Here’s the homepage for OSPI’s ESSA blog, and here is OSPI’s latest ESSA newsletter.

Seattle Public Schools' Advanced Learning Programs 'magnify inequity'

A white student in Seattle Public Schools is 20 times more likely to qualify for “gifted” or “advanced learning” programs than a Black student.

The problem is so bad that last year at Cascadia Elementary School in North Seattle, all 529 white students had tested into the “highly capable cohort” -- the school’s advanced learning program. The school had just 49 Black students to begin with. Only two of them were part of the cohort.

That’s right: All 529 white kids at Cascadia were considered “highly capable,” and every Black student but two was not.

Seattle Public Schools’ Advanced Learning department was set up to support top-performing students. Just as opportunity gaps exist across racial and socioeconomic lines throughout our public school system, Advanced Learning in Seattle Public Schools disproportionately serves privileged students.

Contributing to this is a policy that lets students who do not pass the school-administered test pay hundreds of dollars for a psychologist to administer a private test, giving wealthier students even greater access.

Brian Terry is a parent of two Thurgood Marshall students, and he’s also part of a committee working to change this inequitable system. He said that by fifth grade the majority of white students in Seattle’s “Highly Capable Cohort” program (also known as HCC) got there by paying for one of these tests.

“In effect, the program magnifies inequity,” Terry said.

I’m a white parent with two biracial kids, and I was labeled as “gifted” by two different school districts in the late ‘80s. I was part of the magnifying glass that makes today’s system so likely to exclude my own kids.

But what does it even mean to be an “advanced learner?” What did it mean to be “gifted?”

I can tell you that in my case, I had many gifts, but none of them were about me being some kind of rare intellect. I had two college-educated parents, including a mother taking a break from her career teaching elementary school to stay at home with me and my sisters. That was a gift. Plus, I took standardized tests written by white people for white kids. I had white teachers with reasonably high expectations for white students. I had just about every advantage.

And it turns out I’m living proof that being an early reader doesn’t necessarily translate into lifelong scholarly prowess. I was a top prospect, but I never blossomed into an academic Hall-of-Famer. I did fine.

My kids, meanwhile, will still get some of the same privilege I enjoyed at home, but they aren’t likely to get the benefit of the doubt from the system.

Think about it: my kids are twenty times less likely to be identified as "gifted" than they would be if their mother was white. That is staggering.

Claudia Rowe of the Seattle Times wrote a thorough, much-needed examination of this advanced-learning gap across the Puget Sound, and it’s worth reading to get an even fuller picture. When she touches on the private testing phenomenon in Seattle, she explained how the district recognizes the inequity in its system but has so far responded only with a hollow gesture:

[State officials] flat-out reject the kind of private intelligence testing that is popular as a gateway to gifted-and-talented programs in Seattle.

“When students are privately tested, they’re getting a completely different experience from the usual Saturday morning cattle call,” said Jody Hess, who supervises programs for the gifted at the state education department. “It’s just far more likely that a child is going to do better on that kind of test than they might in a group, and that’s a built-in advantage only available to families of means. It’s a privilege of wealth.”

Recognizing the inequity, Seattle offered to cover the cost of private testing for low-income students this year. But its list of suggested evaluators includes none in the city’s low-income neighborhoods.

 

As often happens in Seattle Public Schools, we know that district officials know about this inequity.

In fact, the official committee I mentioned was formed as a result of that knowledge. The district awarded an Equity Grant to Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, so this committee has been working since then toward their goal “that the composition of the HCC (Highly Capable Cohort) program reflects the district’s racial and socioeconomic diversity.”

Now the district is reviewing its advanced learning programs, and Terry said the committee “wants to send the school board and district staff a clear message: We are holding them accountable for equity in advanced learning.”

All in all, this all gets a little weird, and it shows the dysfunctional approach to resolving inequity in Seattle Public Schools.

The district knows about the inequity in its Advanced Learning programs. That much is clear.

The district has chosen to act on that knowledge mainly by offering to pay for private tests in inconvenient locations for low-income students, and by forming a parent committee to apply pressure back on itself to force the district to change its own inequitable practices. So, they’ve done a lot, but they haven’t gotten much done.

We can help bring this charade to an end. The committee is asking people in the community to step up and attend at least one of the remaining four SPS board meetings to either give two minutes of testimony or simply fill a seat and hold a sign.

Sign up here to select a specific date to stand up for equal access to advanced learning opportunities for students of color in Seattle Public Schools.

The next meeting is Wednesday, May 17 at 5:15 p.m. at the Seattle Public Schools office in SODO.

Superintendent Reykdal will outline his 'long-term education vision' at a press conference next week

Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced today that he will discuss his long-term "K-12 education vision and the McCleary funding compromise" at a special press conference next week.

From OSPI's press release:

“The OSPI team and I have been working with and supporting legislators from all four caucuses since I took office,” Reykdal said. “And like everyone else, I’d like the Legislature to come to an agreement and pass a budget before July 1."
"But I also know that this isn’t just about solving a court case. We must ensure our funding is targeted to best support all of the students in our state as they reach for success. And we must also be sure our funding system is sustainable over time.”

 

For the most part, Chris Reykdal has been saying all the right things so far when it comes to equity and McCleary funding, but he still hasn't earned my faith in his ability to follow through. For starters, he's a career politician, which is a path I find hard to trust. Secondly, I don't respect his camp's work during the campaign to quietly try to undermine Jones' credibility as a champion for equity.

I bring this up not out of sour grapes, but to say that Reykdal has lived out the politics I expect from a career politician taking over as superintendent of schools. I expect this to be a stop on his career path, and as such I expect him to be less willing to take risks and to make the potentially unpopular decisions that will lead to true changes in our state's education system.

I hope he proves me wrong.

In fact, as a parent with a son in a struggling elementary school, and in the name of what's right, I challenge you, Chris Reykdal, to be as bold as our kids need you to be in the name of racial and socioeconomic equity in education, regardless of its impact on your career.

We are not in an era where you can straddle the fence. Our state's progressive values are not reflected in our pathetic educational outcomes and segregated schools.

It's you, Chris Reykdal, who's been elected to change that. You will have to risk your popularity and your future electability, but I'm trusting you'll do that because it's what the job demands. I look forward to hearing your plans next week, and to seeing you in your role as the person our most overlooked families are quietly depending on to fight for our kids.

 

  • WHAT:    Press conference with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal
  • WHEN:    Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 10:30 a.m.
    • WHERE:  Brouillet Conference Room, 4th Floor
                     Old Capitol Building (OSPI)
                      600 Washington Street SE, Olympia

RSVP:  Nathan Olson, OSPI Communications Director: 

 

Chris Reykdal feels all the feelings about playgrounds.

Chris Reykdal feels all the feelings about playgrounds.

We know the Trump administration doesn't care about education. Will Washington State step up to save our kids?

Each state is currently in the process of establishing a comprehensive education and accountability plan under ESSA, which they'll submit to the federal government for approval.

These plans will determine, among other things, how each state will address its opportunity gaps, how they'll measure progress toward closing those gaps, and how they will help struggling schools.

Our nation has been built on a sturdy framework of systemic racism, and that reality is quite evident in our public school system. If we want to close gaps and change outcomes for low-income students and students of color, this is where it begins.

States don't have a great track record of upholding human rights when they don't "have to," however. The federal government has been more likely to carve out new protections for human and civil rights than the states. Of course, those protections are always gradual and reluctant, but it's still typically the federal government leading the way with policy that leads to implemented changes at the state level.

Examples do exist, though, of states going out on a limb in the name of equity, and those bold moves have a way of impacting the nation. Washington State did that for marriage equality earlier this decade. We have a chance to do the same for educational equity if our leadership makes brave, potentially unpopular decisions during this critical time.

The state superintendent's office in Washington (OSPI) has convened an Accountability System Workgroup to work on these issues. Under the direct leadership of Michaela Miller and Ben Rarick, the committee currently consists of a whopping 39 members.

As I understand, OSPI promised to reduce the size of the workgroup, but this promise was then broken. This is especially problematic because many members of the group are redundant in their role and voting interests, allowing the WASA/AWSP/WSSDA contingent to largely vote as a bloc, effectively negating any diversity of opinion or perspective in terms of outcomes.

In the end it will mean district staff are unchecked in designing a system for holding themselves accountable to student outcomes.

Our state has appalling opportunity gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines, and it is time we held our education system to a substantially higher standard than the level of systemic oppression it's currently operating.

We know the current fascist-leaning federal administration doesn’t care about public education. We need OSPI to refuse to participate in perpetuating the failure of our kids. The time is now or never.

Everything you need to know right now about school accountability under ESSA in Washington State

I've been writing a lot about ESSA and the need for active vigilance as our states attempt to write their own school accountability standards and procedures.

Here in Washington, state education leaders have developed a first draft of the statewide education plan due to the U.S. Education Department by Sept. 18, 2017.

A major chunk of the plan is dedicated to school accountability: knowing how well schools are meeting the academic needs of students, showing that information to parents and communities, and helping schools that are struggling the most. Of everything that happens during the transition from No Child Left Behind, this part of the process will have the most impact on educational equity, which means it will have the most impact on our traditionally oppressed students and communities. Which means nothing else in this plan matters if we let our education leaders get this part wrong.

So, let's stay vigilant together. Here are some highlights and potential concerns from the first draft of Washington's consolidated ESSA plan:

The Goals

Elementary/Middle Schools

Where data is available, Washington wants 100 percent of elementary and middle school students testing on grade level (or on track to being there) by 2037. At the 10-year midpoint, they hope to have each subgroup of students (including different racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, low-income students, etc.) cut the learning gap in half.

So, if 40 percent of black students are testing at grade level in 2017, for example, the state would like to see 70 percent of them at grade level by 2027 (the gap to get to 100 percent was 60, so half of that means an increase of 30).

High Schools

In 10 years, at least 90 percent of students from each subgroup should be testing on grade level in high school and graduating from high school.

English language proficiency goals are still to be determined.

Tracking and Rating Schools

States also have to measure how schools are doing in other areas. Washington has chosen to look at graduation rates, whether students are meeting a minimum bar for grade-level work, how much students are growing academically, progress for non-native English speakers, and “School Quality or Student Success” (things like chronic absenteeism, dual-credit participation and the percent of 9th graders who don’t fail a course).

They’ll use all of these indicators to give schools an overall score or rating. 

The state hasn’t completely figured out its rating system yet. Everything related to academics (such as student performance on tests, graduation rates, etc.) will count for more than the school-quality factors just mentioned, but exactly how the state plans to calculate a score remains vague.

In the plan, students’ academic growth is considered to be of “high” importance, performing at grade level is “medium,” and school-quality factors are “low.” This seems like generally the right way to think about it — academic factors should be a priority and count for more in a school’s overall score — but “precise numerical weightings have not been assigned,” according to the draft plan.

When they do figure out how to calculate scores, Washington will give schools an overall rating on a 1-10 scale. They’ll also give schools a color label tied to that ranking.

These scores will be based on a three-year average. Unfortunately, Washington will only ask schools to report every three years. In other words, in some years, parents would be looking at a scores that use information that’s nearly six years old. Taking a three-year average makes sense — it can be misleading to judge the hard work of teaching kids by such a small sample size as a single year. But not recalibrating that three-year average every year is a disservice to parents and others seeking to have timely information about what’s happening in Washington schools. 

How are 'subgroups' counted?

Federal law says states have to track specific groups of students — the kind of kids who usually get the short end of the stick in education. Not only do states have to track them, but they must have a plan in place if those subgroups of students — again, students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, etc. — are not getting the education they deserve.

In the section of the plan where states are supposed to identify each “major” and “racial ethnic” group, Washington seems to ignores the “major” part — students with disabilities, low-income students, and English learners — and only addresses the racial ethnic groups.

In another section, Washington says it plans to create two sets of subgroups to help them identify schools that need “targeted support” (see more on this in the next section). The first set would group racial and ethnic minorities together — nearly any non-white student, it would seem. The second, called the “program” group, would include English learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students.

It’s unclear if Washington will report on low-income students or students with disabilities if they aren’t identified for this level of support. The only mention of this second set is when the plan talks about providing support to struggling subgroups needing “targeted support.” If the state doesn’t report on them, it will create a serious issue of state transparency with parents, and it could also put the state in violation of federal law.

Support for Struggling Schools

Once Washington figures out how to give every school a score, education officials will identify the bottom five percent of schools to receive the highest level of support: "comprehensive support." Schools with a four-year graduation rate below 67 percent will also be marked for comprehensive support.

The state will give these schools 90 days to figure out what they need to improve and come up with a plan. The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office (OSPI) will review those plans and get them back to the schools within 30 days. 

Schools that aren’t in the bottom five percent but have struggling subgroups of students will be identified as schools needing "targeted support.” The intervention is basically the same: Give them time to make a plan to turn things around. The major difference is funding. OSPI has no way of knowing for sure how much money will be available from the federal government, so comprehensive-support schools will be first priority when funding these plans. Whatever’s left will go to the targeted-support schools.

To identify targeted-support schools, the state will look at those two sets of subgroups (the racial/ethnic minorities set, and the “program” set with non-native English speakers, students with disabilities, and low-income students). Within each set, they’ll see which schools are struggling the most and select them for targeted support.

What's next?

We need to monitor the state's school rating system, which is currently in development by the Achievement and Accountability workgroup.

We also need to look into the rationale behind only checking school accountability measures every three years. This sets the stage for some very outdated information.

And we need to know if low-income students and students with disabilities will be reported on even if they don’t fall into the comprehensive or targeted support categories. This isn’t clear in the plan. We know they’ll be tracked for long-term goals, but outside of the targeted support details, they aren’t mentioned in the plan’s accountability section.

Finally, an update from OSPI about ESSA accountability plans

The Washington superintendent's office (OSPI) finally shared some updates last week about its plan for accountability under ESSA.

What does that mean? Here's some background from the press release released last week.

"The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which passed in December 2015, requires every state to submit a Consolidated Plan to the U.S. Department of Education. In part, Washington’s Plan details how school and district success will be measured and accounted for, as well as how the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) will support success."

Okay, why is that important? Well, this plan will determine what happens when schools are failing to close achievement gaps and/or to safely and effectively prepare all kids for life. It's the only mechanism we have to know how our schools are doing and to hold our government accountable to the promises they've made when it comes to the compulsory education of our kids.

Here's a quick summary (plus green bubbles):

WashingtonESSATimeline.jpg

So, there's a timeline. What else?

They are not currently accepting public comment. There are also very few details about the actual plan itself. It's more of a plan for making a plan. Like scheduling a meeting to decide when to meet.

Read the PR buzzwords for yourself:

An accountability framework was developed in 2016 using input and recommendations from the ESSA Accountability System Workgroup (ASW). Reykdal reconvened the ASW to continue its review of some requirements in the Accountability, Support, and Improvement section of the Consolidated Plan.
In addition to reconvening the ASW, Reykdal has created a new Accountability Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). The TAC will analyze state assessment and accountability data and research-based best practices to provide recommendations or options to the ASW based on the analysis. The ASW can then make recommendations to Superintendent Reykdal.
OSPI will continue to collaborate with the State Board of Education to produce one statewide accountability framework. Also, to continue building foundations for data-informed decision-making, OSPI will align the ESSA indicators and other performance indicators to ensure a high-quality system of accountability for our schools.
“ESSA ushers in an opportunity to look at how we are supporting the needs of all students in all schools in Washington state,” said Deputy Superintendent Michaela Miller, who is leading the ESSA work. “OSPI is looking forward to developing a continuum of support that elevates a focus on equity, closing opportunity gaps, and continuous growth and improvement.”
Reykdal is also reconvening the ESSA Federal Programs Team. This workgroup will continue to:
  • align all ESEA/ESSA programs with the goal of supporting students in mastering the knowledge and skills necessary for success in career, college, and life;
  • encourage greater coordination, planning, and service delivery among programs; and
  • enhance the integration of programs under this ESEA/ESSA with state and local programs.

 

The press release does mention equity and opportunity gaps, but it does so in the same vague way the gaps are always mentioned in Seattle and across Washington State. Racial and socioeconomic inequities are baked into our schools, creating and perpetuating a shameful opportunity gap. Our leaders talk about how it must and will be closed! And then we carry on with business as usual.

This all sounds like more of the same so far: lots of frameworks and alignment and collaboration and enhancement and coordination and integration and continuua of support. A beehive of words, but none to inspire hope that Chris Reykdal and company will be able to solve the problems they're admitting exist.

Washington is a notoriously progressive state, and Seattle is calling itself a sanctuary city. Our education leadership needs to follow suit by making decisions and implementing policies that are unapologetically equitable. We need to be willing to make white folks uncomfortable, to risk unpopularity by doing the right thing.

Can we count on Chris Reykdal, a politician who surely hopes to get elected to some further office in another few years, to take those bold actions? To take those bold risks?

I'm not holding my breath. If it's going to happen, though, this would be a good jumping-off point. Let's start backing up our empty words about closing gaps by making our accountability plan the loudest, boldest, most unapologetic promise of equity that any state submits.

Has Chris Reykdal already fallen behind as a watchdog for our kids?

We discussed Chris Reykdal, Washington's newly installed State Superintendent of Public Instruction, at great length last year. His opponent in last year's election, Erin Jones, was exceptionally qualified and the first Black woman to run for statewide public office in Washington, and we instead elected Reykdal, a white male career politician.

Now, after less than two months in office, Reykdal is already falling behind.

On Friday the Eatonville Dispatch published an op-ed from Superintendent Reykdal in which he vaguely pledged to "fight for supporters of public education."

He started by highlighting Congress' effort to repeal the regulations on school accountability (emphasis is mine):

On Feb. 9, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as our nation’s 11th secretary of education. A few hours after the confirmation, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal certain rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The rules clarify how ESSA will be implemented in regard to teacher preparation programs and how schools and districts measure success.
The Senate must now vote on the repeal. If the Senate votes in favor of the repeal, the DeVos administration will write its own rules. 

I don't expect most parents to track all the policy developments happening in our nation's capitol, but I do expect the state superintendent to keep up. The U.S. Senate voted to repeal the regulations on March 9, more than a week before this op-ed posted. 

Here's a screenshot just in case they figure it out before something posts and take it down.

 

Reykdal got one thing right: the Betsy DeVos puppeteers will write their own rules if left unchecked, and we can count on those rules to be oppressive in ways both familiar and newly alarming.

Let's hope this is Reykdal's wake-up call, and maybe a reminder that he's the one, as our elected champion for students, who's supposed to be on top of these things.

Erin Jones leads primary voting for state superintendent

Today is the final day to vote in Washington's primary, and according to Paige Cornwell of the Seattle TimesErin Jones sits atop the field of nine candidates for state superintendent of schools with 24 percent of the vote.

That is great news for our students and our schools, and it puts a crack in one of our remaining shameful glass ceilings. Jones would be the first black woman to hold statewide elected office in Washington.

With 20 percent of the vote, state Rep. Chris Reykdal will likely join Jones on the November ballot. Reykdal has been an outspoken opponent of charter schools, but he said last month he would support charters as part of the public school system if they are upheld as constitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Ron Higgins, amazingly, is currently third at 17 percent -- the same Higgins who has said he wants to "stop sexualizing education" and would do away with gender-neutral bathrooms.

Jones and Reykdal have seemed to be the frontrunners for some time now, so this preliminary news comes as no real surprise, though I find it interesting that the majority of voters chose one of the other seven candidates. (More on them here.)

Hopefully enough of those soon-to-be-disenfranchised voters will swing Jones' way. My concern now is that it's hard to imagine someone voting for Higgins, say, in the primary, and then for Jones over Reykdal. We'll see.