Discord has grown behind the scenes of Washington state’s rollout of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal act meant to replace the controversial No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The problem is not with essa itself — which all sides seems to agree is inherently better than its predecessor — but with how Washington is planning on implementing it, right down to the review process.
ESSA gives states more rights over how they measure student success and focuses on improvement for schools and students as opposed to the punitive measures of NCLB. After 10 months of workgroups, research and planning, Washington’s consolidated draft plan of essa is open to the public for review online.
The public has until Dec. 15 to make suggestions on the 241-page plan before the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) submits its final version.
However, the review falls over the holiday season and the draft plan is only available in English, which restricts a lot of people most affected by this plan from accessing it.
OSPI has set the review period for this time because they intend to submit the plan at the end of December for a 120-day review period by the U.S. Department of Education, despite the first submission deadline being March 6, 2017.
Gil Mendoza, deputy superintendent, said OSPI chose this date back in January, before Congress had set a deadline in order to make sure districts and schools had enough time to implement it after it was approved.
“We were concerned that if we didn’t submit it until March, 120 days from that is July, which gives our districts and buildings and teachers a month to ramp up,” Mendoza said. “So that was kind of our guiding line: how do we protect the buildings and teachers and districts from chaos.”
There is no indication as to whether the plan will be reviewed sooner than March. The U.S. Department of Education is still finalizing regulations and will provide guidance to states once they do, but that date is still unconfirmed, according to Takirra Winfield, the department’s director of strategic media initiatives.
The Washington State Department of Education wrote a letter to Superintendent Randy Dorn, commending him on the conceptual framework of the plan, but urging him to wait until March to submit.
Community organization members that were involved in the workgroups express similar concern about the December submission; among them is Julia Warth, a senior policy analyst at League of Education Voters who sat on the Accountability System workgroup.
“The timeline was incredibly fast and unnecessarily so,” Warth said. “And as a result of that it really hindered the amount of authentic community engagement that could happen.”
Community engagement in the planning and implementation of essa are explicit call-outs in the law.
While several organizations and advocacy groups were involved in the workshops, many are saying their suggestions weren’t heard.
Sharonne Navas, the cofounder and executive director of the Equity in Education Coalition, was also on the Accountability System workgroup, which had 47 people, only six of whom were from either a community-based or an advocacy-based organization; everybody else was from an educational institution. She calls this type of engagement a “veneer of progressiveness,” allowing the same groups as before to call the shots while touting community outreach.
“The fact is that a lot of these workgroups were really contentious workgroups because of the few people that were involved — the advocates that were there on behalf of a certain demographic of kids whether it was low-income, Special Ed, migrant, refugee, ESL — none of us got heard,” Navas said. “And there was a very strong racial equity component that all of us brought forward, and none of that got incorporated into the plans.”
Mendoza believes this plan is much better for low-income students and students of color, in part because they are now disaggregating the data, and looking at not just overall group performance as they did under NCLB, but at subgroup performance as well.
The draft plan went online last Nov. 14, but was taken down an hour and a half later due to a technical glitch before being permanently posted on Nov. 16. This meant that two of the three draft review tours held around the state that week for the public to learn more about the plan were held before the public had access to it.
Warth still holds out hope that OSPI will listen to community organizations’ concerns and suggestions.
“What they could do — there’s still time — would be to partner with community-based organizations and hold smaller forums that could be more participatory so that it’s an opportunity for people to actually speak with someone from OSPI,” Warth said.
“And if it’s in partnership with an organization that people are used to working with and trust, they’re more likely to show up and get engaged with the process.”
OSPI has no plans to hold off, but a new superintendent, Chris Reykdal, was elected in November to take over for Dorn, who is retiring Jan. 10.
Mendoza said it is possible Reykdal will have a differing opinion on how to proceed, but for now believes the submission will proceed as planned in December.