Governor Carney and Delaware’s Department of Education are about to make it easier for Delaware families to know how their schools are performing. But only if groups such as Delaware’s teachers’ union (DSEA) are not able to impose their will behind the scenes.
The Delaware Department of Education recently sided with parents in its final draft Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan by committing to a new star rating system for K-12 public schools. Similar to the star rating system that already exists for early learning centers in Delaware, this new school report card would give families a summary school rating at a glance to help them understand how schools are performing and how the various metrics for measuring school quality fit together.
Sounds like a promise worth keeping, right?
But if my knowledge of how great ideas become adult-centered policies holds true, groups like DSEA, who have opposed including school performance ratings in the state’s ESSA plan, will attempt to change Carney’s course. To get there they will likely share a number of the following myths.
But you don’t have to buy the hype. Here are some facts on this topic:
MYTH: Nobody wants school ratings; DSEA is opposed to it and so are many superintendents.
FACT: Over the past few months, I have conducted workshops for Delaware parents on “assessing school quality,” and without fail, I have watched most parents struggle to find and make sense of Delaware’s official school report card. When I’ve shared examples of other state’s school report cards – report cards that follow the format and methodology Carney’s administration has committed to bringing to Delaware – parents are overwhelmingly on board. They want what other states – such as Wisconsin – already have.
But don’t take my word for it. Thousands of Delawareans responded to the Delaware Department of Education’s 2014 survey indicating they want school performance ratings. Recently a coalition of 24 community and business groups also sent the Department a letter with recommendations for the state’s ESSA plan that called for a “single summary rating for schools and districts…in order to ensure clarity for parents and community members.”
In other words, many people want school ratings. They just happen to be families, community groups, businesses, and parents, not powerful insider groups.
MYTH: School ratings are more of the type of “testing, labeling, and punishing” we do not need in our schools.
FACT: Delaware’s school report cards are based on more than just state tests and they’re about celebrating great schools while supporting schools that need help.
The proposed report card will include success on Advanced Placement exams, success in getting industry-recognized credentials, graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, whether students are on-track to graduate and much more.
The school ratings are just as much about identifying schools that are good, great and serving our kids well. Parents want to know which Delaware schools are excellent and which schools are 5-star schools in the making.
Today, federal law requires that we identify and “label” the bottom 5 percent of schools in our state. The school report cards to which the Department has committed renames those schools – from Priority and Focus schools to Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) schools – and continues its support for these schools with access to more money and assistance. That’s not punishment. It’s being honest about where and how we need to help our schools.
MYTH: It is unfair to rate and compare schools because they serve different populations of students.
FACT: It’s important that we talk about growth, proficiency and what these measures mean for our schools. Already, the Department’s school report card system gives significant weight to measures of academic growth. The same will be true under the new report system. Growth measures, by their very definition, take into account that some schools serve students that are behind academically and measure how well schools are helping these students to grow and catch up. This provides a fairer picture of school quality than simply ranking schools based on the proficiency of their students because it takes into account where students are now and what it will take to get them where they need to be.
It’s also important to remember that growth measures, which take into account how much a student’s performance has grown over a school year, also benefits schools with higher performing students in ensuring they help their students grow, as well.
MYTH: A low school rating is bad for morale and teacher retention.
FACT: A low school rating is no more the cause of bad morale and teacher turnover than a low credit score is the true cause of lack of access to capital. It merely acknowledges there is work to be done and provides the transparency and accountability needed to improve.
A low rating may not be an easy thing to tackle, but strong school leaders will rally a school, its educators and the surrounding community around the goal of improvement.
What’s more, school ratings can be just as much about success as they are about improvement. School ratings can tell us which schools are getting exemplary results with traditionally underserved populations. This can be encouraging for schools whose students are not yet proficient but are growing at rates much faster than other schools.
MYTH: If you give schools a rating parents are just going to use that single rating to judge schools and ignore all the other information about a school’s performance.
FACT: Some might. But most will use it the same way my wife and I used the Delaware Stars rating when picking an early childhood center for our daughter, as a good way to get started.
Today, parents get information about school quality through word-of-mouth, third-party school review sites and other sources that do not provide a true, accurate picture of a school’s performance. Parents are entitled to the best, highest-quality and most easily understood information to make the right decision for their child. Our goal, as advocates and policymakers, must be to equip parents and taxpayers with school quality information that is easy to understand, fair, and consistent.
The final draft ESSA plan will be presented to the Senate and House Education Committee meetings on March 22nd and will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on April 3rd. I have no doubt that Gov. Carney and the Department of Education will come across these myths as powerful insiders seek to skew policy toward their special interests.
For the sake of parents and everyday Delawareans who want and need to understand how our schools are doing, I urge policymakers to continue to side with parents.