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As sure as the campaign signs and billboards will soon be removed across our state, the image of diverse, broad-based support and engagement presented by vote-seeking politicians will be replaced with an all-too-familiar reality: folks are most comfortable doing the business of public policy in segregated, stealthy spaces hand-in-hand with special interest groups.

In the realm of public education, this is a reality that consistently places adult-interests in front of the interest of children.

Parents, students, and communities of color look great in campaign literature. But they’re a lot more disposable in the policy and implementation process. Last week’s educator evaluation bill (House Bill 399) signing (pictured above) provides a perfect example of this unfortunate reality at play.

Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator Bryan Townsend’s educator evaluation bill was signed last week in a back room with teachers’ union representatives. There were no people of color in the room.  There were no students in the room.  There were no community-based organizations represented in the room. In fact, the very same Wilmington parents who saw their recommendation that parent and student surveys be included in teachers’ evaluations make its way into the legislation were not even invited. It was business as usual post-election season: homogenous rooms with exclusive access for the same old insiders. It doesn’t take a $500k management consultant to recognize there are serious diversity and access problems here.

But what should be equally alarming to the lack of representation is how often the edicts that emanate from these segregated, stealthy spaces fail to provide trajectory-altering opportunities for underserved students. Our children.

House Bill 399 suffers from this same flaw: it does nothing to move Delaware’s education system toward a place where it is providing an excellent education for all students, notably those that have been left behind generation after generation.  And since we know just how important teachers are, it is also notable that the legislation does nothing to improve the quality of feedback educators receive through the state’s teacher evaluation system.  We must ask ourselves: why are so many insiders clapping and patting each other on the back for a bill that does nothing to improve teaching or learning?

Let’s talk policy (and the politics behind it).  Here are a few things the bill did:

  • Required that up to three schools pilot DSEA’s teacher evaluation rating system during this school year and the following school year. It was also amended to require that parent and student surveys are incorporated into teachers’ evaluations in those schools during the pilot year. No districts signed up to participate in this pilot that supposedly everyone wanted!  Only two charter schools agreed to participate in this pilot: Odyssey Charter and Providence Creek.
  • Student learning in reading and math (based upon growth, not proficiency) on the state assessment is optional (at the administrator’s discretion) in the two schools that opted to participate in a pilot in September.
  • For all other schools, the evaluation system remains the same in 2016-17.

14468642_1016149781834783_472587447465070967_oThis is quite the celebration for a bill that perpetuates the status quo. These aren’t the types of achievement-gap-closing, education quality transforming, teaching profession-advancing policy changes most would want to pop the champagne corks over.

14372289_1016149778501450_876270532516784093_oThis was about politics. How else do you explain the hugs, smiles, and photo opportunities surrounding a bill that does nothing to address the deep inequities in Delaware’s education system?

It’s hard for me to see this and not be reminded of the policies that were promoted in the 19th and 20th centuries that created today’s education disparities — those policies were also forged in similar segregated, stealthy spaces. I’m reminded of how far we have to go.

Back to the Delaware reality: instead of a photo opportunity celebrating providing low-income students with more funding, or increasing starting salaries for teachers (the Governor included this in his budget but DSEA did not follow-through on their commitment to support his approach to compensation reform after multiple years of conversations), or increasing the state’s ability to protect students from adults who shouldn’t be working in schools, some are memorializing decreasing accountability for student learning.    

If this doesn’t make sense it is because it shouldn’t.

When you dwell in the segregated, stealthy spaces seen yet again last week, you are depriving yourself of more than diversity. You’re robbing yourself of the type of perspective, pushback, and urgency that often comes with that diversity. You’ll do a lot of work to create bad education policy that does not help children.

And all you’ll have is a photo to show for it.

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3 thoughts on “The Segregated, Stealthy Spaces of Education Policy

  1. Atnre, full disclosure here: I crashed this bill signing. I heard about it from one of the participants, but I was shocked there was no public announcement about this bill. The only two sources (to the best of my knowledge) that even acknowledged this bill signing was my blog and State Rep. Earl Jaques’ Facebook page.

    This bill was a good bill, in my opinion, prior to Senator Sokola’s amendment. I have no doubt more districts would have signed up for the bill had Sokola not put the amendment on. What district wants to be responsible for parent and student surveys adversely affecting a teacher’s evaluation? Who wants to sign off on that? While I think parent and student surveys could be useful for informational purposes, there are far too many factors outside of an educator’s control that could affect the results of a survey. As an example, say the students is a special needs child and the IEP team is in disagreement with the parent. It could be something very minor, but that would affect how the parent perceives a classroom teacher and could rate them poorly when it could be an administrative decision. Or perhaps a student fails a class test and the student is then given a survey. Is it the teacher’s fault if the student failed, for whatever reason? That is why surveys are biased in nature.

    For the equal weighting, I am sure you are well aware of my position on standardized tests. If I had my way, they would have no impact whatsoever. When these tests are used for punitive purposes, it loses all meaning of the purpose of them. And we all know eventually those very same tests will become constant stealth tests embedded in the ed tech invading our classrooms.

    History will prove who is right and wrong on these issues. In many areas of education, you and I are on opposite sides. But in some areas I do agree with you. It did not escape my notice that there were no minorities in the Governor’s office for the HB399 signing. I have to imagine it was very intentional for the Governor not to give this bill the fanfare he gives other bills that clearly have no meaning. While it is the Governor’s prerogative to choose which bill signings are public or not, this one should have been. I believe all stakeholders involved should have had the opportunity to attend. While you see pictures of people smiling and “celebrating”, as a participant in this bill signing, I don’t think all of them were celebrating. I don’t think anyone was happy with the final outcome of this bill in its entirety. It was split apart on both sides of the issues. Some may call that compromise, but I don’t see it that way.

    Education has become a profit center. It is has also been invaded by billionaires and philanthropists who think they can fix education. All their ideas filter down to those who are able to institute their thoughts and ideas. You were one of those who contributed to this. I’ve been hard on you. Not because issues of equity aren’t important to me, but because I feel the things taking place in education will only result in further separation of subgroups from their peers. As a father of a student with pretty complex disabilities, I have just as much of a stake in these conversations as others. I know you aren’t ready to see things like I do. But my fear is one day you will. And at that moment things will have advanced far past the point of no return.

    You continue to point at DSEA as if they are the enemy here. By putting them at the epicenter of your article involving representation at a bill signing, you are not mentioning the simple fact that Jack Markell’s office would be the one to promote this bill signing.

    Perhaps you can answer this having been a former employee of the DOE… how is it that Providence Creek was able to announce their participation for this pilot at a June 21st board meeting before the amendment was even introduced? Why would the DOE send out invitations for a pilot that depended on the legislation behind it passing? The same thing happened with the teacher-leader pilot program which the DOE sent out notice to schools before the committee behind it even came out with their final recommendations. It is that kind of activity that is very worrisome. Perhaps those are the type of things DSEA sees going on in education and why they don’t trust policy that comes out which can hurt teachers at a time when more and more are leaving the profession.

  2. There’s so much to unpack here, but I just don’t even feel like doing it. So much regarding perception and reality. Kevin hits most of the points correctly.

    I will say this. Toward the end of the piece where you start talking about DSEA’s role in CAECC. I was on the DSEA executive board three years ago when this was first brought to our attention. Our internal conversations surrounding this were thoughtful and nothing like your characterizations here. There was NEVER a deal to simply accept the governor’s recommendations. Why the hell would we do that, Atnre, particularly if our members felt they were BAD RECOMMENDATIONS? Our Association is under NO “commitment to support his approach” as you say. What is he, a king ruling by fiat?

    Our Association absolutely believe we should be starting salaries higher. But there was so much nuance in the work of the CAECC that you are either intentionally or unintentionally leaving out that it make the entire paragraph above intellectually without merit. You may view our Association as a roadblock to progress. Fine. But don’t misstate or leave out facts and context and the voice of dozens of our members who DID participate and share their concerns with the governor’s recommendations to make your point.

    As for he bill signing, I will actually agree with you. When Kevin posted he picture earlier, I literally said “Why isn’t Atnre there?” You were so successful at getting that amendment in that I do believe you should have been there. However, this is a bill-signing ceremony. The governor’s people handle this. So your blame should lie squarely at their feet and not the feet of those DSEA members in the picture.

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